According to The Irish Times, energy poverty is “spending more than a tenth of [ones] income on energy.” In Ireland, 29% of households, up from 13% in 2015, meet this “threshold for energy poverty.” This widespread energy poverty in Ireland has resulted from the sudden surges in gas and electricity prices which are partially due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On average, Irish households are spending €21 more weekly on energy instead of other essential goods. To make matters worse, if motor fuels are included, families are spending €38 more weekly than before the recent inflation, according to The Irish Times.
According to research by the Irish Houses of the Oireachtas, “it is well established that certain groups are more vulnerable to energy poverty and its consequences.” Research by the House discussed that not only do poorer households have limited capacity to support their energy needs due to economic restraints, but they also frequently have increased energy costs. Many of the poorer households in Ireland live in less energy-efficient accommodation, such as mobile homes and trailers, which leads to higher energy costs.
The groups suffering from increased energy costs the most are the Irish Traveller and Roma communities residing in Ireland. These communities frequently face “financial exclusion” and energy-inefficient accommodation. In fact, 40% of Travellers and Romas in Ireland significantly struggle to make ends meet, and 13% live in accommodations in bad condition. “These factors result in significant health and safety risks for Traveller families,” says research by the House.
Specifically, energy poverty affects individuals’ health, social inclusion and housing tenure. Additionally, homes often use cheaper alternatives, such as coal, to meet their energy needs, which has serious effects on air quality and climate change. Thus, it is in everyone’s best interest to reduce energy poverty and ensure all households can safely meet their energy needs.
Social Justice Ireland, a think tank and justice advocacy organization, stated that, in theory, the solution to both the financial and environmental costs is as simple as making homes more energy-efficient. This would reduce the carbon emission of individual homes and require less fuel, in return reducing cost. In order to do so, the organization suggests a “state-led retrofitting scheme” to improve the condition of poorer quality homes.
In research by the House, it endorsed the need for grants and programs in order to retrofit homes. However, it also suggested the need for “income supports in the form of transfer payments” and subsidizing energy in order to prevent more homes from falling below the threshold for energy poverty.
Currently, the Irish government aims to alleviate the effects of spiking energy prices by cutting indirect taxes on fuel, such as the carbon tax. However, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has criticized the government’s efforts, as “most of the aggregate gains would go to the highest-income 40% of households while less than a third would go to the lowest-income 40%,” The Irish Times reports. Alternatively, the think tank suggested income supports, such as welfare payments, similar to the recommendation by the Irish Houses of the Oireachtas.
Unfortunately, according to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, “the Government might already be at the limit” of what it can do, due to the constantly rising levels of energy poverty in Ireland.
Local Actions and NGO Efforts
Considering the government’s limited ability to act, local and NGO actions are even more valuable in alleviating and preventing energy poverty than usual.
Locally, according to a report by the European Commission, the Deep Retrofit Transforms Wexford Sheltered Housing project has helped retrofit 12 one-bedroom homes, including social housing, in Wexford, Ireland. The projects will not only have serious economic and environmental benefits but will also benefit the homeowners’ health and wellbeing.
Furthermore, Energy Action, established in 1988, fights to address energy, specifically fuel poverty in Dublin, Ireland. The NGO, which was “Ireland’s first community-based energy project,” provides free insulation in the homes of the disadvantaged, such as the elderly and poor. Since its founding, Energy Action has insulated 35,000 homes. The remarkable NGO has also helped tackle poverty in Ireland by employing and training the formerly long-time unemployed, “providing them with sustainable and ecologically sound employment opportunities.”
Although Ireland lacks a national program to tackle energy poverty, Energy Action supports multiple “community-based organizations ” fighting energy poverty throughout the country to get started with their own projects.
– Lena Maassen