‘Energy poverty is a complex issue for municipalities’

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Hanna Kreuger followed the master Energy for Society. With her graduation research Mapping the mindsets of municipal policy workers on mitigating energy poverty, she won the Student Award during New Energy Forum 2023.

'I had been interested in the subject of energy poverty for some time. Due to Covid and the war in Ukraine, the number of energy-poor households has grown and the subject is in the news more often. In the Netherlands, half a million households suffer from energy poverty. Unfortunately, the government has not established a definition of energy poverty. TNO did do so, however: households with a low income in combination with a high energy bill and/or a poorly insulated house. When I started looking at my research data, I quickly came across the gender thread in the story. I delved deeper into households affected by energy poverty. These have different compositions. What is particularly striking is that one fifth of these compositions are single-parent families led by women. Women often earn less in the Netherlands, have less access to the labour market and children in broken homes often live with the woman in the household. In short: on average lower incomes and higher (energy) costs mean that women are more likely to end up in energy poverty. If you look at policy, no distinction is made between family compositions. As a result, people fall between the cracks.'

Institutionally focussed policy workers and scouts

'I then looked at the use of SPUK funds of municipalities and at the different mindsets that civil servants have around the theme of energy poverty. SPUK stands for specific benefit. SPUK funds are not specific policy solutions, but budgets to combat, for example, energy poverty at municipal level. It may seem like a nice arrangement because municipalities can decide for themselves how the money is used. Yet in practice you see large differences between municipalities. One municipality uses the money to finance draught strips, for example, while another may use it for the energy surcharge. This creates local inequalities. To answer the main research question, I used the Q method in combination with interviews of respondents. The survey, in which policymakers sorted statements about tackling energy poverty and gave interviews, identified two types of mindsets among responsible municipal policy workers: the institutionally focused ones and the scouts. The institutionally focused officers tend to agree with statements that outline less responsibility for municipalities. For example, the responsibility for tackling energy poverty lies more with housing corporations and the national government. The scouts put statements about further defining and investigating energy poverty higher on their priority list. Scouts emphasise the importance of a local perspective on energy poverty and clearly disagree with a financial approach alone.'

Complex issue

 'The results also showed that the theme of energy poverty is a complex issue for municipalities. Sometimes the right knowledge is also lacking. For example, there is hardly any attention locally to the fact that one in five households with energy poverty are single-parent families led by women, while larger studies do reveal this. In the short term, my research shows where the bottlenecks are in tackling energy poverty; current national policies are inadequate for more than half a million households and the complex nature of these households is not yet sufficiently understood by policy workers. That's not to say that they do not recognise the complexity. In my research I make a number of recommendations to improve the situation. This way, municipalities can exchange knowledge with each other more. It is important that bodies are created in which municipalities of the same size cooperate with each other. In addition, municipalities must be given knowledge and capacity to express the complexity of energy poverty at a local level. The terms of the SPUK funds can also be supplemented with requirements and a long-term vision. This will make it easier for municipalities to create a roadmap and reduce spatial injustices due to differences between municipalities.'

Hanna graduated in February 2023 and is now working as an energy transition consultant at consultancy firm Over Morgen. Winning the Student Award awarded her a sum of a thousand euros. Hanna wants to use this money to develop a HanzePro course on energy poverty for municipal civil servants.

Read more about the research