Energy insecurity in Europe: participants share their life stories

Citizens from energy insecure households from Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Romania are being brought together for the European project “Fair Energy Transition for All” (FETA), during which Missions Publiques is organizing workshops in France. The objective: to bring energy insecure households into energy policies at EU level. We met Thierry, Irlaine, Valerie and Osnel who shared with the us their life stories and explain how energy insecurity impacts their lives.

“Ecology is not politics”

Thierry, a 62-year-old Parisian man, is just recently retired. After a medical error, he had to end his job as a taxi-ambulance driver that he practiced for 30 years in the Paris region, then the Pyrenees where he now lives alone.

He has suffered from energy insecurity every day. “I consume a lot of energy because I can’t sleep at night: I watch television, my computer, I switch on the lights at night” he says. But more than that, Thierry realized that he was paying twice as much as his next-door neighbor and the previous tenant. Why was he paying twice as much? Because his boiler was defective, and the owner had not bothered to change it. As a result, high bills and difficulties in making ends meet.

During the workshops, he realized that other participants around him were unaware of existing processes at hand. “Fortunately, there is the social worker,” he says ironically. He would “appreciate it if his life story didn’t fall on deaf ears” and if “politicians could take note and do something about it”. For Thierry, “ecology is not reduced politics and energy should be free, not in the hand of the lobbies”. As such, another subject worries him: water…

“Ecology is not reduced politics and energy should be free, not in the hand of the lobbies”.


62 years old

“To put pressure on landlords”

Irlaine lives in Boissy-Saint-Léger in the Parisian suburbs. At 50, she is on leave following a work accident. As a medical secretary, she lives alone in a social housing unit owned by a major landlord. Not receiving the French so-called “energy cheque”, she is unable to pay her electricity bills, which have increased dramatically. And despite her calling out the elected representatives, “Engie is still asking for more money.” Apart from the bills flowing in, Irlain lives in a thermal sieve, a term for dwellings ranked in the two lowest categories of the country’s Energy Performance Certificate scheme, with ratings of “F” and “G”, “A” being the most eco-friendly performance. Irlaine doesn’t have any shutters to isolate her apartment and suffers dreadfully from the cold in winter.

It was while attending a “Money management course” at the solidarity center in her town that she was contacted to take part in one of our workshops on energy poverty. Her wish? “To put pressure on landlords to insulate buildings that are 30 years old!”. Hers refuses to do so.

She would also like decisions taken by the government to have “an impact on our lives as consumers”, that solutions brought to the table live up to the challenges “small cheques are not a sustainable solution”. Why not follow the example of countries like Finland? “We live in a country where the climate is moderate but we’re 20 years behind.”

“[We have] to put pressure on landlords to insulate buildings that are 30 years old!


50 years old

“I am electronically equipped in my body; I need electricity to recharge”

Previously a warehouse manager, Valerie has lived alone in a rented house in Troyes for 17 years. Her children (two of her own and three that she raised) are now adults. At 49 years old, she is not allowed to work because of her disability. A manner of speaking since she babysits her 9 grandchildren! A medical error made on her spine forced her into a wheelchair. By sheer will-power, she has been walking again for 7 years.

Energy consumption is a very important part of her daily life. “I am electronically equipped in my body, and I need electricity to recharge every other day. Her health condition requires a lot of nursing care and “energy consuming equipment”. On top of that, she has a poorly insulated house with wooden windows and double glazing. “I pay 50% to heat my house, 50% to heat the sky and birds.” To insulate the attic, she called in the big guns to ask for help: “I went to meet my landlord with my pillow to make him bend”.

Her pension is very low: 376 euros per month to which is added the AAH (the French, and controversial “Allowance for Adults with Disabilities”) of around 500 euros. She hopes that the lawsuit, launched 12 years ago, will allow her to get a little more. “I don’t have any other help, and above all, we are not recognized, and we have no status. On paper, we check the ‘other’ box. Her wish is that subscriptions, such as electricity, be calculated in proportion to her income. By participating in these workshops, she has “discovered many issues that she was not aware of, but which affect her. She now hopes that “everyone will be heard”. Finally.

“I discovered many issues that I was not aware of, but which affect me .


49 years old

“Small gestures are not enough”

Osnel is a self-employed accountant and lives in the South of France in a small town called “Millau”. At 35, he is also president of the Millau Youth Association. He is not directly affected by energy poverty, but this is not the case for all the people who live in his HLM, a low-income housing in France.

If he agreed to take part in the process, “it is because of the needs of the population”. For Osnel, people initially think they are saving money by obtaining social housing, but in the end “they end up with high bills because their housing is poorly insulated, the heating is of poor quality and therefore extremely energy-consuming …. In the end, it pays off for others. And the vicious circle begins.

During the workshops, he realized the extent of the ones “left behind”: people with disabilities, those who fall through the cracks of the aid system, etc. From his point of view, “small gestures are not enough”, a deeper awareness is needed: “social landlords must take their responsibility more seriously. Today, we can no longer afford to rent housing in this state. It is disrespectful towards people and irresponsible in the face of ecological issues. “Forget the money a little, protect nature!”

“Social landlords must take their responsibility more seriously. Today, we can no longer afford to rent housing in this state.


35 years old


Read the interview of Pascale Taminiaux, coordinator of the FETA project: “Capturing the needs of people who are most likely to be left behind”

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