Journal Special Issue on fuel poverty

This post summarises the articles that EVALUATE and CURE researchers recently contributed to a Special Issue of the journal People, Place and Policy: ‘International Perspectives on Fuel Poverty’. It is a high-quality special issue and readers of this blog are encouraged to access the full articles (which are all open access) if they’d like to know more.

Harriet Thomson, alongside Carolyn Snell of the University of York and Christine Liddell of Ulster University, co-authors an article entitled “Fuel poverty in the European Union: a concept in need of definition?”  The paper analyses policy documents to trace the emergence of discussions and deliberations around fuel poverty, energy poverty and vulnerable customers at the EU-level.  The paper reveals that fuel poverty concerns have been a feature of European discussions since 2001, and that contrary to the European Commission’s lack of support for a European-wide definition of fuel poverty, many of the EU institutions and consultative committees are in favour of such a common European definition.  The authors themselves conclude by arguing that a European-wide definition of fuel poverty is vital for increasing the recognition of the issue amongst EU Member States, although they caution that it should avoid being overly prescriptive.

Neil Simcock, Gordon Walker and Rosie Day begin to tackle the question of ‘what energy-uses matter?’ in their paper “Fuel poverty in the UK: beyond heating?”.  Specifically, they investigate how different energy-uses are incorporated into definitions and discourses of fuel poverty in UK policy documents and by national NGOs.  They find that to some degree official definitions of fuel poverty in the UK do go beyond heating to include multiple other energy-uses. However, this is not reflected in dominant policy and NGO discourses which predominantly frame fuel poverty as solely a lack of adequate space-heating – similar to much of the academic research on the topic.  The authors conclude by arguing that there is a case for a greater recognition of non-heating energy services in fuel poverty discourses and policy measures, and they identify two areas (related to household coping strategies and the unequal distribution of inefficiency appliances) that warrant further research and debate.

Stefan Bouzarovski co-authors a paper with Jenni Cauvain of the University of Nottingham entitled “Energy vulnerability in multiple occupancy housing: a problem that policy forgot.”  The paper shows that Housing in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) can be particularly vulnerable to fuel poverty because the sector contains some of the UK’s worst housing stock, and tenants typically have reduced housing and social security rights alongside reduced control of (or sometimes complete absence of) basic energy services. Despite this, HMO is largely absent from UK policies governing energy efficiency and fuel poverty.  The paper argues that this situation is partly due to hegemonic cultural norms that associate housing as ‘properly’ occupied by single-family units, alongside negative imagery that stigmatises HMOs and the residents living within them as ‘problems’.  The lower housing standards found amongst HMOs thus become naturalised and accepted as simply ‘the ways things are.’  The authors argue that to overcome these inequalities there must be a recognition and acceptance of HMOs as a necessary and even welcome part of the UK housing mix, which requires exposing and tackling the prejudices associated with this form of tenure.

Finally, former EVALUATE researcher Sergio Tirado Herrero co-authors a paper with Luis Jiménez Meneses, “Energy poverty, crisis and austerity in Spain.”  Drawing on a range of quantitative data from the period 2004-2012, the paper investigates the links between the economic crisis and associated austerity and the prevalence of energy poverty, taking Spain as a case study.  The findings suggest that the increase in domestic energy deprivation levels in Spain since 2008 occurred in parallel with a rapid surge in unemployment rates and domestic energy prices, especially of electricity. The findings also indicate substantial geographic differences in energy poverty levels across Spanish regions (Autonomous Communities) because of differences in climatic and socio-economic conditions.  The authors argue that energy poverty levels were thus the result of both structural and short-term factors, with the economic crisis exacerbating wider socio-spatial divides.  However, that the current national policy framework tends to offer linear, short-term, and sometimes inadequately-targeted solutions.

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