Article from the Oct 2004 edition, Socialist Voice

Massive support for non-payment

WATER CHARGES are to be phased in over a three-year period from April 2006 and are to be based on the property value of each house. A new Valuation Tribunal Service will be set up to assess the capital value of each house or apartment.

By Gary Mulcahy

Visit the site of the We Won't Pay Campaign
The government claim that the average water charge will be between 315 and 415 a year, with the maximum being initially set at 750 a year. This means working class families who are struggling to make ends meet but who have seen the price of their house rise dramatically will pay relatively far higher for water than a wealthy businessman living in a mansion.

There can be no doubt that the mass opposition to water charges has influenced the government to tread carefully in relation to how the charges are introduced. In the first year households will be asked to pay one-third of the charge, in the second year two-thirds and in the third year the full amount.

Minister of State John Spellar announced these details in September, adding that there would be "protection for low-income households". For households who are dependent on the Housing Benefit and the Rate Rebate, there will be a temporary 25% "discount". This still means pensioners, people reliant on benefits and low-paid households will have to pay an average of 236 to 311 a year for water.

These charges cannot be justified. The government claims 3 billion needs to be invested in the water and sewerage system over the next 20 years and that householders in Northern Ireland are not paying for water. Households pay on average 188.33 a year towards water and sewerage services alone. In total, 118.6million is raised every year. Over 20 years, this amounts to 2.3billion. Households are responsible for using less than 50% of water. Over 50% of water is consumed by industry and agriculture. If the money were raised from the non-domestic sector, that would bring a figure of 4.745 billion over a 20-year period.

Households in Northern Ireland have been paying for water for decades through the rates. It is not the fault of ordinary people in Northern Ireland that successive governments refused to invest in the service. The Government should cough up the extra money needed to run a quality service.

Join the "We Won't Pay" campaign

THE "We Won't Pay' Campaign has been receiving an excellent response in communities since the details of water charges were announced.

The Campaign has been recruiting people throughout Belfast and across the North as well as signing households up to our non-payment pledge. Spokespersons for the Campaign have been on Radio Ulster and BBC television.

Some groups within the broad Coalition Against Water Charges have suggested however that non-payment should not be the tactic used to defeat charges. They naively argue that we need to convince the government that they are wrong, falsely arguing that the government would listen to them. The government are determined to introduce water charges and privatise the service.

Some groups within the Coalition have also mistakenly called on the District Councils to organise meetings to build an anti-water charges movement. We cannot rely on the politicians of the main four parties which dominate these Councils to effectively campaign against water charges since they collectively agreed to introduce water charges when the Assembly was up and running. The only way water charges and privatisation can be stopped is by organising mass non-payment throughout the North.

Public Meetings are being organised by the We Won't Pay Campaign in the coming weeks to organise local groups and spread the campaign.

Kathy Robinson is a resident and an organiser of the We Won't Pay Campaign in Finaghy area of Belfast.

"I've been paying rates for years. Why should I have to pay twice for water? This is just an attempt to impose a stealth tax on the people of Northern Ireland. The real agenda is to get householders paying a separate water charge so the service can be sold off to big business and fat cats. There's no way I'll be paying water charges"

Barbara Hawkes lives in the Cregagh Rd area of Belfast. "How the Government can blame us for lack of investment in the water service is beyond me. Where has all the money gone? They can easily find money for a war on Iraq, but then say there is no money for the water service. If water charges are introduced I don't know how I and my neighbours will be able to pay. Everyone should join the We Won't Pay Campaign and stick together on this."

Visit the site of the We Won't Pay Campaign

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