Fuel poverty has not always been recognised as something that exists. To this day, there is no set definition of fuel poverty in Ireland.
However, it is understood that one is in fuel poverty, or energy poor, if more than 10% of one’s income is spent on energy bills. The only problem with this definition is that it does not take into consideration those who do not spend more than 10% on fuel bills but rather have cold homes.
How exactly does fuel poverty affect us?
According to a study carried out by the Irish Public Health (IPH), Ireland and Northern Ireland have one of the highest levels of winter mortality in Europe. They estimated that an excess of 2,800 deaths on the island over the winter months are related to fuel poverty.
They also found that fuel poverty affects one’s health both directly and indirectly. Lone parents were found to have the highest prevalence of fuel poverty in Ireland, with strong correlations between fuel poverty and low-income households.
Living in fuel poverty can put ‘thermal stress’ on the body, mould can aggravate respiratory illnesses and it can affect your mental health. Indirectly, living in fuel poverty can affect your food, clothing and other bills; as people cut back on other expenditure in order to cover the cost of their fuel bills.
Fuel poverty can also affect our climate. Living in fuel poverty does not only mean that one tends to use the most cost ineffective fuels; it also means one often ends up using fuel that damages our environment.
It is important to remember not all households that are in fuel poverty are low-income households. Households in the higher tax bracket also report being in fuel poverty due to high costs of expenditure, both from fuel bills and other household expenses.
Fuel poverty is a complex issue that takes into consideration several aspects to determine whether a household is ‘energy poor’. There is no one definition of being in fuel poverty, as the cost of fuel, one’s income and their household warm level have to be taken into consideration.
The full study carried out by the IPH can be found at https://www.publichealth.ie/files/file/FuelPoverty_0.pdf