Shield energy poor from rising energy bills, say NGOs and trade unions
A “toolbox” released today by the European Commission to mitigate the impacts of skyrocketing gas prices has been criticised for putting lives at risk by the Right to Energy Coalition .
As energy bills continue to soar, millions of Europeans face a freezing winter – forced to choose between heating their homes or having food on the table. This will be dangerous, and in some cases lethal, for vulnerable households unless stronger EU-wide emergency relief measures are put in place and the root causes of energy poverty are addressed – states the coalition which unites NGOs, trade unions and social justice organisations across Europe.
The Commission’s policy guide  advises member states to provide targeted financial support, bill deferment plans, tax breaks and safeguards to ban disconnections to shield vulnerable groups. All of which are vital, but fall short of addressing the scale of the problem, says the coalition. The policy guide encourages member states to put in place short-term relief, but has failed to deliver on MEPs’ and civil society calls for a strong EU-wide plan of action, says the Right To Energy Coalition.
Martha Myers, energy poverty campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said:
“Access to clean, affordable energy is a human right. Europeans have been left to pick up the price for our volatile, fossil fuel dominated energy system. The Commission’s policy guide is only a drop in the ocean for those living in energy poverty this winter. An EU wide plan to exempt energy poor people from bill debt now and deliver subsidised renovations and renewables to those that need them most is the bare minimum we need.”
Ahead of a summit of EU heads of government next week, which is set to be dominated by the gas crisis, the Right to Energy coalition has called for a strategic approach to provide immediate relief and address the root causes of energy poverty linked to inefficient housing and the neoliberal, profit-centric energy system.
Jan Willem Goudriaan, General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), reacted:
“This crisis of energy prices reveals the massive shortcomings of the neoliberal energy system. Governments should immediately move to ban disconnections and stop the phase out of regulated energy prices for households. Public control is now more than ever essential for a true right to energy.”
The coalition recommends an urgent European-wide ban on disconnections, similar to measures taken during Covid-19 in some countries , to ensure everyone across Europe has access to energy if they default on their bills. The Commission has suggested member states put in place safeguards on disconnections, but there is no EU plan of action, and many member states will ignore this advice. A requirement for member states to deliver immediate financial support is also missing from the policy guide.
The groups urge the European Commission and member states to commit to fully subsidised deep renovation programmes for vulnerable households across the EU. Indecent housing is linked to over 100,000 premature deaths a year  and an invisible public health burden of over €140 billion . Campaigners are calling for the European Commission to commit to decent and safe housing for all whilst reducing energy consumption in line with the European Green Deal.
They also call for a re-evaluation of our energy market to prioritise people and planet before profit. Gas companies continue to make poor families pay disproportionately more for their energy  leaving vulnerable people in the cold. As renewable electricity is currently the cheapest on the market ; the Coalition demands subsidised renewable programmes for vulnerable groups, as well as addressing the upfront cost of community energy ownership to make it accessible to people on lower incomes.
1 in 4 European households already struggle to adequately light, heat or cool their homes . However the crisis of unaffordable energy bills has put an urgent spotlight on the need to provide short-term relief and rectify long-term structural causes of energy poverty.
Carlos Susias, President of the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) said:
“It is necessary to protect the most vulnerable citizens from the impact of soaring energy prices and make their voice heard in the decision-making process, to end energy poverty in Europe.”