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Identifying the vulnerable: energy and transport poverty and beyond

15 December, 2020

Reading time: 4 minutes

Caitlin Robinson

University of Liverpoool

Guest author, Caitlin Robinson, reflects on our webinar ‘Identifying the vulnerable: energy and transport poverty and beyond’ which made the case for greater recognition and understanding of the intersection between energy poverty and transport poverty – termed double energy vulnerability.

Energy and transport systems are highly interconnected, and it is often difficult to differentiate between the two. Yet, to date, energy poverty and transport poverty have largely been treated as separate issues in research, policy and practice. Seeking to bridge this gap, a recent CREDS webinar Identifying the vulnerable: energy and transport poverty and beyond made the case for greater recognition and understanding of the intersection between energy poverty and transport poverty – termed double energy vulnerability.

Bridging silos between energy poverty and transport poverty

Understanding double energy vulnerability is important for two reasons. Firstly, as multiple forms of disadvantage overlap they are likely to intensify negative impacts on health and wellbeing, whilst also having additional (often poorly understood) consequences for vulnerable households. Secondly, in the case of double energy vulnerability, this is further complicated by the need to rapidly decarbonise both the domestic energy and transport sectors. Low carbon policies are likely to exacerbate double energy vulnerabilities if the issue is not considered as part of a fair and ethical transition.

Identifying double energy vulnerability

With this in mind, what does double energy vulnerability look like? Informed by ongoing research as part of the CREDS FAIR project, team members Neil Simcock and Kirsten Jenkins expertly distilled the myriad of ways in which a household can experience double energy vulnerability. Examples ranged from dense, urban areas characterised by high rates of income poverty but comparatively better public transport provision, to rural areas without a gas connection or public transport access but comparatively higher average incomes and levels of homeownership. Importantly, the research emphasised how these vulnerabilities are likely to be exacerbated by structural inequalities and discrimination (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity, disability, age).

As the project team’s exciting research develops, a number of key takeaways emerged from the discussion that could help to better identify double energy vulnerability going forward:

1. Researching multiple types of disadvantage complicates things

This may seem pretty obvious, but both energy poverty and transport poverty are multidimensional issues that complicate traditional understandings of poverty. In addition to overlaps between energy poverty and transport poverty that enhance their negative impacts, there are also likely to be less straightforward interactions and trade-offs between the two. As highlighted during the seminar, examples of these trade-offs have become visible during the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted a reorganisation of energy and transport related bills for many households. On the one hand, as some household members spend a greater proportion of the day at home domestic energy bills, and the risks of debt and cold homes, pdf (10 pages, 1.7 MB) have increased. On the other, some households may have saved on the costs of transport associated with commuting.

2. Some types of vulnerability are likely to be mis- or under-represented

As with understanding of any type of disadvantage – but perhaps especially relevant to a condition as complex and poorly understood as double energy vulnerability – a higher degree of uncertainty is likely to exist for selected groups about what their vulnerability looks like. These under-represented vulnerabilities will benefit from further in-depth, qualitative understanding of the lived experience of households.

3. New vulnerabilities will emerge that cannot be explained by existing frameworks

During the seminar, both the risks and opportunities of future low carbon transitions for double energy vulnerability were highlighted, as energy and transport systems become increasingly integrated. In addition to exacerbating or alleviating existing types of vulnerability, the structural change necessary to deliver a low carbon transition may also generate new, unanticipated forms of double energy vulnerability.

Beyond energy and transport intersections

Thinking forward, discussions about double energy vulnerability also made me reflect on the need for a greater understanding of how domestic energy vulnerabilities overlap and intersect with other types of disadvantage, beyond transport. For example, early evidence has begun to emerge about the important relationships between energy poverty and water poverty (opens in a new tab),  air quality (opens in a new tab) or the impacts of climate change (opens in a new tab). I am keen to further explore some of these interconnections, hopefully better reflecting how vulnerabilities tend to be experienced in everyday life.

Banner photo credit: Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

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