Freedoms ebb and flow: Boaters’ experiences of water and sanitation insecurity on the inland waterways of England and Wales

Ruth Sylvester
University of Leeds, School of Civil Engineering, Leeds, UK; cnres@leeds.ac.uk

Helen Underhill
Newcastle University, School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape, Newcastle, UK; helen.underhill@newcastle.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: This article explores how boat dwellers on the inland waterways of England and Wales – 'Boaters' – experience water and sanitation services. Boating populations are not counted as customers of private water utilities, so they exist within the 'dwelling paradox' and are positioned at greater risk of water and sanitation insecurity. Interviews and auto-ethnography document a myriad of ways in which participants use these resources on different vessels and waterways. The Capability Approach emerges as an apt framework for representing nuanced journeys from water and sanitation access to perceived quality of life. Findings suggest that equitable services can be defined as those which enable Boaters to live in ways they value. This entails reckoning with diverse – and potentially divergent – definitions of a 'good life', supported by the personal freedoms to achieve it. We argue this research makes a strong case for centring lived experiences in service design, particularly in instances of disagreement on the constitution of adequate service levels. Co-creating knowledge with people living in the dwelling paradox reveals complex relationships with authority and exclusion. We extend this theory, and the principles of equitable service delivery, to emphasise the situated desires, choices, and freedoms of the populations in question.

KEYWORDS: Water and sanitation, dwelling paradox, Capability Approach, health, wellbeing, canals, rivers, itinerant dwelling, household water insecurity, United Kingdom