Fuel poverty in vulnerable households [Emergences, issue no. 5]

For the July monthly feature in the  “Emerging trends” section of Ville, Rail et Transports magazine, experts Damien Verry, Florian Vanco (CEREMA, Territories and town technical directors) and Anaïs Rocci (Project maanger at 6t)  took a close look at the issue of fuel poverty in “vulnerable” households.

Fuel poverty is a relatively new field of study, which appeared by confronting the observation that part of the population accumulates unpaid bills for domestic energy, with the rise in concern as regards the increase in energy prices against a backdrop of increasingly scarce resourced. Fuel poverty has long been confined solely to the field of housing. However, today’s consensus appears to have adopted the idea that fuel poverty must also encompass difficulties encountered in the fulfillment of daily travel.

Within a study carried out on behalf of Ile-de-France IAU and financed by the PUCA, the 6t team focused more closely on strategies implemented by vulnerable populations living on the urban outskirts in the Ile-de-France region, as much concerning choices of residence locations and mobility practices, as all other domestic expenses points.

In the excerpt from her article “Vulnerable households” strategies faced with the rise in energy prices: what are the margins for maneuver?, Anaïs Rocci reviews the results of this study:


Choices in location are governed by the will to have a more spacious dwelling and to be a home-owner, at the price of being far away and of a low service level of public transport. The search area can considerably expand in order for a home to be found which complies with the criteria of space and comfort, and these criteria which are, at this level, satisfactory, compensate for the inconvenience of travel distances.  With these distances, the car not only becomes essential, but the purchase of a second car quite often becomes necessary.  Faced with this choice of lifestyle, vulnerable households are faced with a drastic management of their budget and strategies are adopted across all expenditure items. Households primarily leverage the flexibility offered at the level of groceries, and become “cunning consumers” (searching for the best offers, buying in bulk and stocking up in order to have stored goods for difficult times, etc.), as well as at the level of free time, restricting first and foremost every day leisure activities, before holidays where the duration or the destination will be limited. As with groceries, the gasoline budget is used by some households as a flexible point. The households establish a certain amount each week, and will group their trips in order to cut down on the kilometers traveled, adapting their means of transport in order not to exceed it.

The study also shows that in the home, households make use of strategies to limit their energy consumption and to reduce heating bills, which have increased considerably. They do not, however, see the benefits of their efforts in their bills, the decline in consumption being offset by the rise in prices. As concerns perceived risks to come in the event of a significant increase in energy prices, these vulnerable households prove to be fatalistic. They feel that their energy consumption is already minimal. In addition, energy remains a basic need, thus, an irreducible expense over which they have little room for maneuver. A rise in energy prices would make even more flexible expenses necessary, at the levels of food and free time, but could not have an impact on energy consumption both for the home and for travel.

As a result, while “thrifty habits” are in place, households with limited means feel that they have already reached their restriction thresholds and that they truly risk falling into situations of precarity in a future where energy prices are due to rise, without there really existing margins for maneuver to avoid this.


Read the “Fuel Vulnerability of households in the Paris region” report here (in French)

Photo credit: Denis CARAIRE (Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/velovolant/6264996480/sizes/z/in/photostream/)

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