On 25th April I attended the 2nd European Congress of Local Governments in Krakow, Poland to participate in a panel discussion centred on “The Role of Local Governments in Reducing Fuel Poverty”. The other panel participants were Aleksander Szpor (Institute for Structural Research), Dr Julije Domac (President of FEDARENE), Melville Kendal (New Milton council), Antoni Fałkowski (Energy Data Lab), and Radosław Witkowski (Mayor of Radom in Poland. Fuel poverty is still a relatively unheard of topic in much of Poland, so the main purpose of the session was to try and raise awareness of the issue and to push for its inclusion on local policy agendas.
I particularly spoke about the meaning and definition of fuel poverty (emphasising how it is related to, but also distinct from, income poverty), and the history of the concept in the UK in activism, policy, research and practice. I also argued that fuel poverty should be considered a form of injustice, afflicting people not because of any so-called ‘personal’ failings but because of wider systemic and structural conditions – governments, therefore, have an obligation to try and alleviate it.
Other topics discussed by the panel included how to operationalise fuel poverty measurement through quantitative definitions; examples of alleviation schemes currently being undertaken by local governments in the UK and elsewhere; and what needs to be done to push forward the fuel poverty agenda in Poland. On this latter point I emphasised the importance of developing an ‘official’ definition of fuel poverty at the national and EU level in order to increase the salience and awareness amongst policy-makers and the public (similar to the argument made by EVALUATE researcher Harriet Thomson and colleagues in their recent paper).
Overall, the session proved to be an interesting, although a lack of time meant it was cut-short before some topics were discussed in much detail. It was also very disappointing that the panel was all male!