Exiting energy poverty and related health problems: European pilots take action

The initiative in short

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While 10% of European citizens suffer from energy poverty and policy solutions remain scarce, six cities around Europe have decided to tackle the challenge. Valencia (Spain), Heerlen (Netherlands), Leeds (UK), Edirne (Turkey), Obuda (Hungary) and Jelgava (Latvia) will design, implement and evaluate six pilot programs that particularly aim at improving health, wellbeing and equality for people affected by energy poverty. Based on these experiences, the pilots and their academic and non-profit partners will propose EU-wide replicable solutions to policy-makers and city practitioners.

Energy poverty: causes and consequences

The WELLbased team will develop, test and evaluate new innovative health-focused approaches to alleviate energy poverty amongst the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, while promoting energy-efficient behaviours and reducing energy demand in those households.  The measures will address this problem both from an individual, i.e. behavioural and a socio-political perspective, i.e. through regulations and urban planning.

According to the official definition, we talk about energy poverty when a household finds it difficult or impossible to afford its basic energy needs. It mostly affects low-income households – people who are unemployed or poorly paid, retired, single parents, marginalised populations dependent on social benefits. What may surprise: in places like Valencia, even middle-income households find it increasingly difficult to pay their energy bills. Their socio-economic disadvantage is often matched with high energy prices and poor energy efficiency in their homes (poor insulation, outdated heating systems, expensive or polluting fuel). In addition, energy poor households are often socially isolated and lack support from others. They tend to be subject to degradation of dwellings, excessive debt and also to physical and mental health risks. As a matter of fact, evidence from some European countries has shown that energy poverty has an important effect on health and wellbeing.

Energy poverty and health

Health problems attributable to energy poverty include respiratory diseases, heart attacks, stroke and mental disorders (stress, anxiety, depression), but also acute health issues, such as hypothermia, injuries or influenza.

The complex nature of this recently identified phenomenon requires a comprehensive analysis, which should involve environmental, political, social, regulatory and psychological issues, thus involving other social determinants of health and health inequalities. However, most EU countries still do not identify or quantify vulnerable energy consumers and do not implement adequate alleviation measures. The right to energy is only recently emerging as a political concept.

WELLbased urban programs

The activities carried out by the six pilot cities will include:

  • Socio-health energy audits
  • Home improvement measures
  • Empowerment activities for energy poor households
  • Bill support
  • Digitally supported behavioural change
  • Information and awareness-raising campaigns

These activities will take place against the background of six different health care systems and local assistance models, i.e. the Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon, Nordic as well as Eastern models.

Partnership and Energy Cities’ role

WELLbased brings together 18 partners from 10 countries, covering various disciplines including scientific, clinical, social and environmental skills.

Energy Cities coordinates the full range of outreach activities:

  • Communication aims at providing visibility of the project and raising awareness of energy poverty as a major societal challenge. It will be enhanced by using techniques from social marketing and public health communications.
  • Dissemination aims at ensuring that WELLbased outputs are shared and put at the service of others, for advocating and advancing the energy poverty cause in the political, scientific and practical sphere in the long run.

EU emblem This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme under the Grant Agreement no. 957819.

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