With short-term relief very much the priority in Tuesday’s Budget, the focus must now be on delivering structural change through the Energy Poverty Action Plan and the Climate Action Plan 2023, both due to be published shortly. Long-term solutions to the energy and climate crises must be delivered, centring on the needs of low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers and the Traveller community.
The Economic and Social Research Institute estimates that 43% of households could now be in energy poverty. The energy poverty crisis is compounded by the fact that almost half (48%) of Ireland’s housing stock is energy inefficient, with poorly insulated homes locked into fossil fuel dependence. Our damp and energy inefficient housing stock accounts for almost one-fifth of Ireland’s carbon emissions, with Irish homes being 60% more energy-intensive than the average EU home. While the measures introduced in yesterday’s Budget will provide some short-term relief from increasing energy prices, much more is needed to ensure low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers, and the Traveller community in particular can enjoy warm homes and low energy bills. The failure to increase the fuel allowance scheme in Budget 2023 puts increased pressure on households already experiencing energy poverty, and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Ireland’s Energy Poverty Strategy lapsed in 2019, creating a vacuum in accountability and in long-term planning and policy in relation to energy poverty and leaving many in our society exposed to the latest energy price shocks. In the forthcoming Energy Poverty Action Plan, it is essential that low income households, tenants, rural dwellers and the Traveller community are protected in relation to both energy poverty and climate challenges.
The Action Plan must be rooted in a rights-based approach to ensure that – through consultation and collaboration with relevant anti-poverty, housing, health, community, social justice and human rights bodies – it is poverty and equality proofed. Access to adequate levels of energy is a precondition to the realisation of many rights impacting our lives, health and living standards.
- Double the Fuel Allowance rate from €33 to €66 and widen the eligibility for the Fuel Allowance by including those receiving Working Family Payment and those in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance for less than one year.
- The retrofit of Ireland’s entire social housing stock to a B2 standard this decade
- A tailored retrofit plan for the Private Rental Sector with clear milestones, targets and funding. Also, introduce new grants for deep retrofits for landlords in the private rental sector on the condition that long-term leases and rent control are guaranteed to tenants
- Targeted measures to ensure that low-income households, tenants, rural dwellers, and the Traveller community can avail of energy upgrades and SEAI grants
- A dedicated retrofitting programme for households solely relying on solid fuel heating systems, as recommended by @irishrurallink
- Deployment of Local Community Energy Advisors throughout every local authority to engage and inform people who would most benefit from energy efficiency upgrades, as recommended by @SVPIreland
- Acceleration of the phase-out of fossil fuels and prioritisation of Energy Efficiency: The Review of Ireland’s Energy Poverty Strategy recognises the “growing connection between alleviating energy poverty and achieving national climate action objectives”
- Regulation of energy pricing: Provide for the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) to remove standing charges on energy bills and to ensure all energy providers allocate the lowest energy rate to all their users.
- Consistency with Climate Justice: We recommend that the new Energy Poverty Strategy prioritises win-win climate action policies that help address inequality and ensure that the cost of climate mitigation and adaptation measures does not fall unfairly on marginalised and vulnerable groups
- Nationalisation of the Energy System: Consider nationalising Ireland’s energy system to facilitate the just development of efficient, clean energy for the public good.
- Place the Energy Poverty Action Plan on a statutory footing to ensure policy coherence and a whole-of-government approach. To ensure accountability and long-term political commitment towards the eradication of energy poverty, the Action Plan should commit to delivering an Energy Poverty Act in 2023.