Recommendations for a new Energy Poverty Strategy were submitted to the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications last week, by a group of 20 organisations* who work directly with communities impacted by energy poverty, social exclusion and inequality.
In the context of worsening climate and cost-of-living crises, the group is calling on the Minister to publish a new Energy Poverty Strategy ahead of the winter and to adopt a ‘rights-based’ approach to the development of the Strategy, by actively seeking the input of anti-poverty, housing, Traveller, disability, health, community, social justice and human rights bodies.
“With almost one third (29%) of Irish households currently living in energy poverty, a record high, short-term and ad hoc efforts to address energy poverty are no longer adequate.
Ireland’s Energy Poverty Strategy lapsed in 2019, creating a vacuum in accountability and in long-term planning and policy in relation to energy poverty.
Since January 2021, the price of gas has increased by more than 170% in Europe, and with it, the cost of electricity. As fossil fuels account for 86% of all energy use in Ireland, it is among the countries worst-hit by the cost-of-living crisis. This has been exacerbated by three other converging crises: housing, social inequality, and climate change.
The absence of coherent strategy and long-term planning on energy poverty has left low-income households and vulnerable groups particularly exposed to the latest energy price shocks.**
While energy poverty and related cost-of-living concerns will justifiably dominate Budget 2023, to have real impact, any measures to alleviate these should be considered in the context of a longer-term whole-of-government strategy.
Against this backdrop, we are calling for the publication of a new Energy Poverty Strategy as a matter of urgency – ahead of this winter – to provide for the development of a long overdue framework for accurately measuring, monitoring and tackling energy poverty. Crucially, we are calling on the Government to adopt a ‘rights-based’ approach to the development of the Strategy, by actively seeking the input of anti-poverty, housing, Traveller, disability, health, community, social justice and human rights bodies.”
The group recommends seven key principles to underpin a new Energy Poverty Strategy:
- A whole-of-government approach: Place the Strategy on a statutory footing to ensure policy coherence and a whole-of-government approach
- Improve data collection on energy poverty
- Move beyond ‘the expenditure’ method of measurement (i.e. if a household spends 10% or more of its disposable income on energy, it is considered to be in energy poverty) and take into account the additional financial burden often shouldered by older people, those who live with long-term health conditions, and disabled people. The expenditure method only provides a snapshot at a certain point in time. Whether a household experiences energy poverty can fluctuate depending on the time of year, change in income, and energy prices.
- Combine the expenditure method with the “subjective method” when measuring energy poverty. The subjective method relies on self-reported data on ability to keep your home warm, utility arrears, ability to transition to sustainable sources of energy, etc. This will require gathering first-hand views of those living in energy poverty, as they will best understand what is needed to eradicate the problem.
- Introduce effective monitoring and accountability mechanisms to track progress and make course corrections, including specific targets for groups at highest risk of energy poverty, including groups at high risk but currently under-represented in official statistics such as members of the Traveller community. Clear monitoring and accountability mechanisms that are measurable, actionable, and time-bound are essential to policy coherence and protecting citizens’ rights under the Aarhus Convention.
- Public participation: Include those with lived experience of energy poverty at all stages of the design and delivery of a new Strategy
- A rights-based approach: consult and collaborate with relevant anti-poverty, housing, Traveller, Disabled People’s Organisations, health, community, social justice and human rights bodies; provide seats for such bodies on the Energy Poverty Advisory Group, to ensure the Strategy is fully poverty and equality-proofed.
- Align with climate justice: Prioritise win-win climate action policies that address inequality and ensure that the cost of climate mitigation and adaptation measures does not fall unfairly on marginalised and vulnerable groups. Aim to eradicate both energy poverty and energy pollution at the same time by, for example, increasing retrofitting and energy efficiency measures directed at households experiencing energy poverty.
- Commit to delivering an Energy Poverty Act in 2023 to ensure accountability and long-term political commitment towards the eradication of energy poverty.
*Signatories include: Age Action, Clondalkin Travellers Development Group, Community Law & Mediation, Community Work Ireland, FLAC, Fridays for Future, Friends of the Earth Ireland, Independent Living Movement Ireland, the INOU, The Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Rural Link, the Irish Traveller Movement, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, National Traveller MABS, the Northside Partnership, Not Here Not Anywhere, Pavee Point, The Society of St Vincent de Paul, TASC, Threshold.
Rose Wall, CEO of Community Law & Mediation, said: “Energy poverty and related cost-of-living issues will dominate Budget 2023 and beyond, so it is vital that a comprehensive framework is put in place now to accurately measure, monitor and tackle energy poverty. That is why we are calling for a new Energy Poverty Strategy as a matter of urgency. Access to adequate levels of energy is a precondition to the realisation of many rights impacting people’s lives, health and living standards”
Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement said: “Energy poverty has long been a significant issue for Travellers. In 2019, National Traveller MABS research found that 77% of Travellers living in mobile homes were experiencing energy poverty, putting families under severe pressure to meet their basic needs. This has just been compounded by recent energy cost increases and inflation. Trying to keep older, and poorly insulated, mobiles warm increases energy costs, and relying on generators for power where stable electricity is not available is extremely expensive. Anecdotally we also know that some Travellers missed out on the recent electricity credit scheme in situations where they do not have their own domestic electricity accounts. A new energy poverty strategy must have well researched targeted measures to ensure no one is left behind.”
James Cawley, Policy Officer with the Independent Living Movement Ireland, said: “The government’s cost of disability report showed that disabled people spend 10% more on energy costs, are more likely to be in arrears on utility bills, and are more likely to be unable to a?ord to keep their home adequately warm. It is essential that efforts taken to address energy poverty are inclusive of disabled people, acknowledge the additional cost of having an impairment and improve the quality of life of Disabled people. Increasing the inclusion of Disabled people and Disabled Persons Organisations in the design and delivery of a new Energy Poverty Strategy would benefit the effectiveness of energy poverty action for everyone.”
Anjelica Foley of Fridays for Future Ireland said: “As young climate justice activists and climate strikers we are joining the call for our government to meet these energy poverty strategy recommendations. We want a fossil-fuel free future but to achieve this we need a just transition which is why it’s imperative that the government develop a rights-based energy poverty strategy in line with these recommendations.”
Issy Petrie, Policy and Research Officer with the Society of St Vincent de Paul, said: “It is vital that a new strategy to combat energy poverty is now set out from Government. This needs to be a whole of government approach to protect those at highest risk of energy poverty. The government must use the next Budget to introduce targeted measures that make sure everybody has an adequate income to weather this time of high prices. But we need this to be part of a coordinated, longer term strategy that builds our collective resilience and enables us to end energy poverty.”
Ann-Marie O’Reilly, Policy Officer with Threshold, remarked: “Threshold has highlighted that energy poverty, thermal comfort in the home and the reduction of carbon emissions are as much issues for private renters as they are for other households. There can be no delay in the delivery of a new Energy Poverty Strategy which addresses the needs of all households no matter their tenure.”
Ciara Murphy of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice remarked: “Energy poverty reflects the inequality in our society. It is exacerbated by poor quality housing, unaffordable rent and increasing living costs. Tackling this issue requires a holistic governmental approach which addresses the root of the problem, not just the symptoms”.
Clare O’Connor, Energy Policy Officer at Friends of the Earth commented “The current fossil-fuel energy system is failing. The impacts of these failures are being felt by Irish households on low incomes and in poorly-insulated homes. As Ireland now transitions towards a low-carbon energy system through retrofitting and renewables, now is the time to ensure that every Irish citizen has a right to clean, affordable energy. A new Energy Poverty Strategy must put our most vulnerable cohorts at the heart of climate action and prioritise them for rollout of insulation, solar panels, and heat pumps.”
Roisin Greaney, Researcher and Community Engagement Coordinator, Climate Justice with TASC said: “If the transition to zero emissions is to be fast, it must be fair. Currently, households experiencing energy poverty are disproportionately affected by the ongoing energy crisis and risk being locked into an increasingly volatile fossil fuel market. A new Energy Poverty Strategy that takes a rights-based approach is urgently needed to provide a framework for the eradication of energy poverty and energy pollution in tandem.”
Nancy Power, Coordinator of National Traveller MABS said: “We urgently need Government to publish its review of the 2016-2019 Energy poverty strategy and to develop a new Energy Poverty Strategy with public consultation ahead of the Winter. National Traveller MABS would like to see Travellers engaged with during consultations and specifically named in any new energy poverty strategy as Travellers were among the most energy poor prior to this crisis. National Traveller MABS 2019 research found that 77% of Travellers living in mobile homes were in energy poverty, were 9 times more likely to go without heat than the general population and 14 times more likely to be unable to keep their household warm than the general population. Travellers living in mobile homes spend on average 26.1% of their income on energy this is around five to six times higher than the corresponding figure of 4.6% of the population. The situation has only worsened since then and urgent action needs to be taken to protect the most energy poor families in the country.”
Mary-Brigid Collins (Assistant Coordinator of Pavee Point’s Primary Health Care for Travellers Project): “Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre supports the development of an Energy Poverty Strategy. We note several independent studies over the years, and also participated in many of them, which demonstrate the disproportionate impact of energy poverty on Travellers, especially those living in trailers. It is a cross-cutting issue that has consequences not just for Traveller and Roma financial security, but their health outcomes as well.”
Paul Rogers, CEO Northside Partnership: “Northside Partnership commend Community Law and Mediation’s Centre for Environmental Justice in bringing forward these recommendations for Ireland’s Energy Poverty strategy. We join with CLM in calling upon Government to develop a new Energy Poverty Strategy in consultation with the public and key stakeholders working to address poverty and social exclusion.”