Energy poverty: when you work but can't heat your house

Energy poverty: when you work but can't heat your house

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Mother and son make the most of life as much as they can. Maider assures that they are not poor. Poor was Rosa, the old woman who was cut off in Reus and died in the fire caused by the candles with which it was lit, justifies this Donostiarra. Maider and Jorge belong to what is already called the energy lower-middle class. And to the troupe of national artists, as Maider admits herself, because, to do so much pirouette with the beads, you have to have ingenuity or a circus master.

The situation of Maider and that of other millions of citizens like her reaches Congress today, which will vote on a motion of the Unidos Podemos group in which it is proposed to urge the Government to prohibit power companies from cuts in the energy supply without consulting with the social services.

Maider and Jorge are part of the so-called energy lower-middle class.

Maider works as a language teacher and prepares her classes in the 40-meter apartment that she rents near the Atocha Station in Madrid. Every morning he puts on two sweaters and puts on an alpaca poncho. He wears wool writing gloves, the kind that leave the tips of his fingers exposed, and he warms up with sacks of seeds that he heats in the microwave and sits on his belly.

Spain is full of artists of the unplugged heat (unplugged). The Association of Environmental Sciences (ACA) denounces that 11% of households in Spain, about five million people, declare themselves unable to keep their home at an adequate temperature. Between the extremes, there are grays like Jorge and his mother.

Many of those affected by energy poverty are people with jobs

They are the Grays: the lower-middle class Maider talks about. Those whose salaries have fallen seven points since the beginning of the crisis, work part-time although they would prefer eight hours (63.4% according to the OECD), look for a job and cannot find it (4,320,800 people in the last EPA) and their Electricity bill is becoming more and more complicated and more expensive (the CNMC recognizes the difficulties of consumers to interpret it and rises more than 8% in October, according to the regulator's electricity bill simulator, and 76% since the crisis began according to Eurostat). For them, the social bond was created, a measure annulled by the Supreme Court but that the Minister of Energy, Álvaro Nadal, intends to recover with a legislative amendment so that all the marketers, and not just the big five, are those that sustain the reduction.

Maider earns, at most, 1,400 euros per month for her classes and occasional extras for administrative tasks. Due to his freelance profile, the amount is different every month and there are some in which it is almost not. She keeps an exquisite accounting and has registered her energy payments since 2014, when she started working as a freelancer after being unemployed. Their accounts serve as a graph of the upward evolution of electricity. This year it has paid 640 euros to Gas Natural Fenosa. He explains that of the average of 70 euros per month that he pays in electricity, "20 or 22 correspond to consumption, the rest are taxes from the electricity companies that charge them to consumers with the approval of the Government."


Mother and son are vulnerable consumers. The European Network for the Fight against Poverty and Social Exclusion (EAPN) says that energy vulnerability occurs when the personal circumstances of an individual, combined with market aspects, create situations of vulnerability, such as the lack of mechanisms to guarantee access to energy and water as essential goods.

After Rosa's death, the electricity companies have raised their voices to demand a state law

After Rosa's death in Reus, the electricity companies have raised their voices to demand a state law. María Campuzano, spokesperson for the Alliance against Energy Poverty, doubts the will of the companies when, she explains to The Huffington Post, “it is clear that in the case of Rosa, but also in others, the social emergency law that it does exist in Catalonia (Law 24/2015) and that obliges them to consult with the Social Services of the competent City Council before cutting off the electricity ”. María Campuzano considers that the social bonus is unfair. The Alliance and other anti-poverty organizations are demanding a real social fee, "not a discount."

“If I turn on the heating in winter or the fan in summer, my son and I stop having social life and, although we restrict outings a lot, we go to the Filmoteca on Saturdays when the children's session is free for the children, I go out with my friends from time to time we have a drink and do other things that we like, ”says Maider. “That's why”, he says, “after school we spend the afternoon in the Retiro library, we are warm; We also go in summer to be cool ”.

The Association of Environmental Sciences (ACA) denounces in its III Study on Energy Poverty, published in 2016, an increase of 22% in cases compared to 2014. The Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces has also asked the Government to legislate immediately to avoid power outages to vulnerable homes. Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura and Murcia are the four regions with the highest incidence of energy poverty.


Of the 28 member countries of the European Union, only 17 have legislated against energy poverty. Spain has not. Moreover, the Constitutional Court annulled in April the Catalan decree that prohibited power cuts due to non-payment, on the understanding that the social bonus was enough.

The Catalan law, pioneer in Spain, made a definition of vulnerable consumer and prevented cuts between November and March to those who certified their disadvantaged condition with a Social Services report and income below 10,300 euros per year, in the case of a family of three members . Debts were not forgiven but deferred. The Paris City Council has identical legislation regarding evictions: it prohibits them between the months of November to March.

Maider is well informed. She wanted to ask for the social bonus and other aid, but the social worker who interviewed her considered that it was not appropriate "in a country where there are people who attend soup kitchens," she paraphrases while tilting her head to nod.

6% of citizens, 2.6 million, dedicate more than 15% of family income to paying energy bills, according to data collected by the Association of Environmental Sciences (ACA). Another of the indicators used in the study is 7% of Spanish households in a situation of energy poverty, they are the same whose income is below the minimum insertion income (400 euros). Almost five million citizens in Spain barely have what to live with once they have paid their home and energy expenses.

9.4% of the households consulted for the INE's Living Conditions Survey had payment delays when paying expenses related to the main home (mortgage or rent, gas, electricity, community bills, ...) in the 12 months prior to the interview. Maider is no exception. He has suffered two cuts for non-payment and was promised that it would not happen again. The months that he does not make ends meet, he asks his parents for money in San Sebastián, although he tries to adjust consumption before resorting to others, he says.


So much deficiency carries a risk to health. Energy poverty could have caused up to 30% of additional deaths in winter, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). According to data analyzed by ACA, in 2014, the average additional winter mortality in Spain was 24,000 deaths, so more than 7,000 premature deaths would be associated with energy poverty, more than those caused by traffic accidents but in those that it is difficult to distinguish how much the air conditioning problems had an impact.

Energy poverty is related to a higher prevalence of physical and mental illnesses - asthma, arthritis, rheumatism, depression or anxiety - and to the increase in mortality from cardiovascular and respiratory diseases among those over 60 years of age in winter.

According to the Association for Environmental Sciences, more than 7,000 premature deaths would be associated with energy poverty

The Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) has invested five years in the Sophie Project. The study, promoted by the EU, puts on the table the increase in mortality caused by fiscal austerity as a policy of the Great Recession, especially in some causes of mortality and especially in suicide. Carme Borrell, principal investigator, ensures that policies to provide affordable housing can improve socioeconomic conditions and, in turn, health.

"I have no future perspective and that horrifies me," confesses Maider, who accuses the Government of total abandonment of its citizenship and previous generations of lack of solidarity. "It seems that they want us to get annoyed because we had more freedom. Thank you for that freedom but the projection of life of our generation and of the youngest is very uncertain, almost non-existent," he complains.


The Association of Environmental Sciences has developed the Vulnerable Consumer Information Point (PICv), a direct channel of advice that is part of the Network of information offices for vulnerable consumers.

The Know the energy in your home section helps improve energy efficiency in homes. The next section, Optimize the energy in your home, offers tips and recommendations to reduce, through changing habits or with energy micro-efficiency measures, energy expenditure at home. Guides and aids for vulnerable consumers describe specific procedures to deal with common situations of difficulty that an energy consumer may face, including how to act in the face of a supply cut, or how to access aid such as the social bonus.

The second time Maider failed to have the power cut off was summer. The situation dragged on and he had to move Jorge's medicines from his inactive refrigerator to that of a neighbor. He confesses that the situation embarrassed him: "It gives a lot of cut."

"It can be fun to light yourself with candles with a small child but the child goes to school the next day and tells everyone, teacher included, who asks you," he explains. Since then, he has done everything possible not to reach the extreme of the power outage because, in addition, he complains, he has to pay a fine for non-payment that increases the electricity bill even more. "Nor that we were bandits," he accuses. "People do what we can, we are honest and we do not steal," he proclaims in a plea. "Right now I'm thinking of looking for a job in a supermarket just to contribute as much as possible and have the right to benefits," he continues. "My son is on Social Security with me, but until when if things get worse?"


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