Access to adequate levels of energy is a precondition to the realisation of many rights, in particular health and an acceptable standard of living. It is essential to achieve social inclusion, increasingly connected to employment opportunities in Ireland. Accordingly, it is imperative that energy poverty is addressed through a rights-based approach.
A rights-based approach clarifies the accountability of government at all levels to people, in particular those who experience social and economic exclusion and marginalisation. As energy poverty is a multi-dimensional problem, it requires a multi-dimensional response. However, Ireland currently lacks a comprehensive framework to accurately measure, monitor and tackle energy poverty. The former Energy Poverty Strategy lapsed in 2019, three years ago, and a review of the implementation of the former Energy Poverty Strategy is awaited.
Coolock Law and Mediation’s Centre for Environmental Justice and nineteen other organisations, including the INOU, are calling on the Government to:
- Publish its review of the implementation of the 2016-2019 Energy Poverty Strategy as a matter of urgency;
- Develop a new Energy Poverty Strategy and provide public consultation on the Strategy ahead of this winter;
- Commit to delivering an Energy Poverty Act in 2023: To ensure accountability and long-term political commitment towards the eradication of energy poverty, the Strategy should commit to delivering an Energy Poverty Act in 2023.
In terms of developing a new Energy Poverty Strategy the organisations believe there should be a whole-of-government approach, and that the Strategy should be put on a statutory footing to ensure policy coherence and a whole-of-government approach. Cooperation across the following four Government Departments is critical: Environment, Climate and Communications; Social Protection; Health; and Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
The definition of energy poverty needs to be broadened. Energy poverty is currently measured through the “expenditure method” i.e. if a household spends 10% or more of its disposable income on energy, it is considered to be in energy poverty. This definition does not consider the additional financial burden often shouldered by the elderly, those who live with long-term health conditions, and disabled people. Furthermore, the expenditure method only provides a snapshot at a certain point in time. Whether a household experiences energy poverty can fluctuate depending on the time of year, change in income, and energy prices.
Households who use less energy than they would need or like to use to afford their bills are also a hidden cohort of those living in energy poverty. It is essential therefore that the expenditure method is combined with the “subjective method” when measuring energy poverty. The subjective method relies on self-reported data on ability to keep a home warm, deal with utility bills etc. This will require gathering first-hand views of those living in energy poverty, as they will best understand what is needed to eradicate the problem.
Effective monitoring and accountability are essential to track progress and make course corrections, and for citizens and communities to hold the government accountable to its obligations on energy poverty. The Strategy must include clear monitoring and accountability mechanisms that are measurable, actionable, and time-bound. This will enhance policy coherence and protect citizens’ rights under the Aarhus Convention. Also in accordance with its obligations under this Convention, the Strategy must provide for access to legal remedies when Ireland’s obligations in relation to energy poverty are not being fulfilled.
Those with lived experience of energy poverty must be included at all stages in the design and delivery of a new Energy Poverty Strategy. The Department must ensure that the Strategy is afforded appropriate and inclusive public consultation and must ensure to reach those with lived experience of energy poverty. Consultation and collaboration with relevant anti-poverty, housing, community, social justice, and human rights bodies to ensure the Strategy is fully poverty and equality-proofed is also recommended.
Further information is linked here.