Earlier in the summer, the EVALUATE project team visited three of its four case study countries. Workshops with local stakeholders were held in Prague, Budapest and Gdansk during the third week of June. The main goal of these events was to engage local audiences with the preliminary findings of the 2,400 household energy vulnerability survey completed in winter and spring 2015 in the four cities of the EVALUATE project. This post presents a report from the Budapest workshop is presented.
The workshop ‘Energy vulnerability in Hungary: new approaches to understanding domestic energy deprivation’ was held at Central European University (CEU) on June 16th 2015. It was co-organised by the University of Manchester, the Budapest Critical Urban Workshop, and CEU’s Environmental Science and Policy Department. Being one of the key dissemination and outreach activities of EVALUATE in Hungary, a main aim was to present and discuss with local stakeholders the initial results of the 535 household survey carried out in case study districts Budapest VIII and Budapest XIX between February and April 2015. The event brought together up to 25 representatives of academic institutions, think-tanks, energy providers, energy service companies, civil society organisations, the government, and the Hungarian energy regulator.
The first session began with a presentation by Professor Stefan Bouzarovski (EVALUATE project director at the University of Manchester) that introduced key concepts of energy poverty and vulnerability, described various measuring approaches and typologies of indicators, and informed the audience about the timeframe, scope, actions and outcomes of the EVALUATE project.
The preliminary findings of the household survey were then presented by Anna Bajomi (survey co-ordinator of the Budapest Critical Urban Workshop and) and Sergio Tirado Herrero (EVALUATE research associate at the University of Manchester). A description of the two case study districts and random sampling methodology applied was followed by an explanation of key results. These show that a significant fraction of the population of selected districts is likely to be in energy poverty – over 20% of the surveyed households declared to be unable to keep their home adequately warm in winter and to spend more 30% of their income on domestic energy. The perception and opinion items of the questionnaire also indicated that a majority of respondents believe that energy poverty is a problem in Hungary, and that the state should make additional efforts to support households that cannot pay for energy.
These findings were publicly discussed by two invited local experts. Krisztina Kerestely (urban research consultant, district VIII) confirmed that the EVALUATE survey results appropriately reflect the district’s socio-demographic structure and spoke against its consideration as a ‘ghetto’ given the significant diversity within its administrative boundaries. Krisztina also expressed her concerns about the limited scope of building retrofit projects currently being financed with EU funds in district VIII, and warned about the risk of eviction faced by low-income households with arrears in the payment of utility bills living in houses subject to special renovation plans in the Magdolna street area. Tracey Wheatley (Transition Wekerle, district XIX) referred to the diversity of conditions also existing in the second case study area, with three main domains identified: pre-fabricated panel housing estates erected during socialism, single-family houses of the Kispest Kertváros (Kispest city garden), and 19th century multi-family residences of the historical Wekerle neighbourhood. Tracey also highlighted the political edge of perception/opinion questionnaire items in connection with the government-sponsored rezsicsökkentés or reduction of utility costs – one of the elements that make Hungary stand out among EVALUATE project countries (see our previous discussion on these issues here).
The second session of the workshop was devoted to national organisations working on issues of housing and domestic energy affordability in Hungary. András Szekér (national director of Habitat for Humanity Hungary) provided a critical account of recent policy developments in Hungary that questioned the devolution of social assistance competences to the approximately 3,000 local governments currently existing in the country. In his opinion, this recent governmental decision made effective in March 2015 has resulted in the atomisation of Hungary’s social assistance policy and is making vulnerable households dependent of the specific priorities and available resources of the municipality where they live. Orsolya Fülöp (policy director of Energiaklub) stated the need for an official energy poverty definition and presented new estimates of the percentage of households in energy poverty based on the application of the UK’s official low income-high costs (LIHC) definition to microdata of the Hungarian household budget survey. The discussion that ensued turned around the risks of establishing a single definition sanctioned by the state, the need to differentiate between required and actual domestic energy expenditures in the elaboration indicators, and related issues such as the criminalisation of firewood collection in rural areas and the lack of support mechanisms for households indebted to energy providers.