Energy poverty and social relations: a capabilities approach

Lucie Middlemiss, Pepa Ambrosio-Albalá, Nick Emmel , Ross Gillard, Jan Gilbertson, Tom Hargreaves, Caroline Mullen, Tom Ryan , Carolyn Jane Snell, Angela Tod

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Energy poverty is widely understood to be a complex and multi-faceted problem, with a range of drivers, and associated with household vulnerability. In this paper we draw on secondary qualitative data on energy poverty from the UK, as well as conceptual thinking informed by the capabilities approach, to explore a previously understudied facet of energy poverty: households’ social relations. We focus particularly on how relationships with family, friends, agencies and distant others impact on households’ ability to cope with energy poverty. We find that the connection between social relations and energy poverty is recursive: good social relations can both enable access to energy services, and be a product of such access. This connection is also mediated by more structural factors, such as access to resources, membership of particular collectivities, the need to perform particular social roles, and the common reasons attributed to poverty and energy use. Our work suggests that attempts to address vulnerability to energy poverty need to take into account the quality of households’ social relations, as well as the potential impact of policy and practice on social relations, given that people rely on their friends and families for information support and advice, on key agency workers for access to resources, and are also constrained by discourses of poverty.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-235
Number of pages9
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019

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© 2019 The Authors.

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