About Energy Poverty

Our energy system isn’t working.

As fossil fuel continues to dominate our power supply and 75% of EU buildings are deemed energy inefficient, up to 1 in 4 households in the EU cannot afford to adequately heat, cool or light their homes.

Energy poverty rates have soared due to Covid-19 as individuals are stuck at home unable to pay energy bills, living in unhealthy housing or receiving disconnection notices. The most vulnerable continue to be the most affected by energy poverty: low-income families, single-parent households, the elderly and people of colour. This is why energy is a social justice issue.

Moreover, many energy-poor people are the ‘essential workers’, facing low pay and risk as they have to keep working during Covid-19 to keep essential services running. Lower-income households also pay proportionally more for energy.

Energy poverty is not easily determined by one indicator. It is frequently evaluated by unpaid energy bills per region, however it is often unseen and given little public attention. Nevertheless this issue causes severe consequences to people’s health such as physical and mental illnesses exacerbated by cold or high temperatures as well as stress. Energy poverty affects numerous policy areas such as health care and employment rates. An end to energy poverty would see an increase in well-being and physical health, less money spent by governments on healthcare, reduction in air pollution, improved household budgets and increased economic activity.

Energy is a basic human right: no one should have to choose between eating, lighting or warming one’s home. An end to energy poverty is vital for social justice and fighting the climate crisis. Access to energy can be a matter of life and death and it is a condition for living a dignified life.

More and more individuals and groups across Europe are rising up to demand energy justice and energy access for all.

Individuals, communities and organisations are standing up against unjust energy prices and leaky homes. There is a growing discontent in the face of unjust and unambitious climate policies that make the poorest pay the price for our wasteful and inefficient energy system. As young people and social movements mobilise to demand change, we are at a pivotal moment in time.

Coalition members have successfully campaigned to ban disconnections, implement free of charge renovations for energy poor households and include the energy poor as key players in the EU Green Deal.  Additionally Right to Energy members have provided essential research on for a fair transition and how to secure the Right to Energy for all europeans.

However, there is still a long way to go.

D3D4N1 A protest organised by Fuel Poverty Action outside the  Department of Energy and Climate Change as part of a national weekend of fuel bill actions. A mixed group of pensioners, disabled groups and activists trying to reduce poverty gathered under the  ?Stop the Great Fuel Robbery? slogan and were complaining against ever increasing fuel bills.  Whitehall, London, UK 16 February 2013.

Key facts and figures

  • In 2019, 15% of Europeans were living in homes with a leaking roof, damp walls, floors or foundation. This represents over 50 million people.
  • Up to 100,000 Europeans die each year as a result of a cold home.
  • Close to 80 million people in the EU were late or unable to pay their utility bills in 2019.  This has exponentially increased during Covid19 as people are stuck in inefficient houses. This will only worsen during winter.
  • 1 in 10 Europeans cannot properly warm their homes in the winter.
  • 1 in 5 cannot properly cool their home in the summer
  • The share of income that low-income families dedicate to energy has doubled since 2000
  • In Greece a third of the population was late on payments in 2018
  • In Spain more people die prematurely due to energy poverty than from car accidents.

Source: European Commission study 2019, HEAL 2019, Eurostat 2019, BPIE 2019

For more information, visit the European Energy Poverty Observatory for up to date information on member states responses and data on energy poverty.

We have identified three essential ways to eradicate energy poverty in Europe:

Access to affordable, clean energy as a basic human right

All should have access to a minimum amount of energy. The inhumane practice of energy disconnections puts peoples’ lives in danger and should be prohibited by law. Support should be provided to all those who cannot afford to light, heat or cool their homes, for example through social tariffs or a free basic energy allowance.


Decent, energy-efficient and affordable housing for all

Massive renovation programs, particularly benefiting low-income households, would address the housing crisis in Europe, as millions are denied the right to housing or live in homes that make them sick, waste energy and warm our climate. Renovating our homes and increasing energy efficiency would cut our emissions while also creating millions of jobs. The European Union should take a lead decisive role in directing funds and mobilizing political will for such programs. It must ensure that no additional costs in housing or bills are passed on to vulnerable households, and that works are carried out to a high standard subject to strong regulations, independent scrutiny, and accountability to residents.

Energy democracy

People have a right to make decisions about what energy they use and how it is generated. Regulatory frameworks must be developed to support these rights, including setting up and participating in community energy initiatives. Democratising the energy system, through public and community ownership and control of energy, is a necessary condition to ensure a just transition to fossil-free energy.

Alianza contra la pobreza energética