- Publication date
- 1 February 2022
- Directorate-General for Energy
This paper investigates whether energy poor households may be overlooked because they self-restrict their residential heating to underconsumption. Energy poverty definitions predominantly focus on energy expenses relative to household income or theoretically estimated energy needs. Deprived households may accept colder room temperatures to avoid excessive energy bills, but this austerity reaction may backfire if they are no longer classified as energy poor. We thus propose a complementary perspective, highlighting hidden energy poverty emerging from residents’ reactions to their impaired situation. Drawing on survey data of predominantly lowincome residents in energy inefficient housing in the cities of Vienna (N = 220) and Graz (N = 433), Austria, latent class analysis identifies two distinct classes of self-restricting and non-restricting households. Crosstabulating these classes with current poverty definitions indicates a blind spot: about a third of those not considered income poor or energy poor cope by self-imposed restriction in energy use. This blind spot applies across a range of common income poverty and energy poverty definitions, and is replicated in both the Vienna and Graz samples reflecting different housing contexts. Self-restriction blurs the lines of current classifications, as some deprived households may not be recognized in poverty statistics or eligibility criteria of welfare and housing policies. Thus, we propose to consider self-restriction in energy use complementary to the energy poverty triad of high energy expenditures, low income and poor housing conditions in order to avoid misidentification.
Authors: Kristina Eisfeld & Sebastian Seebauer