The austerity pitfall. Energy coping behaviour as a blind spot in energy poverty classifications

Publikation aus Life
Internationale Klimapolitik und Ökonomik

Kristina Eisfeld, Sebastian Seebauer

Working Paper BALANCE WP-3, 2020


The present paper examines the phenomenon of energy coping behaviour for residential heating, in other words, energy poor or income poor households self-restricting their heating to underconsumption below comfort level to avoid excessive energy bills. Energy poverty definitions predominantly focus on energy expenses relative to household income or theoretically estimated energy needs. We propose a complementary perspective highlighting hidden energy poverty emerging from residents’ reactions to their impaired situation. Drawing on survey data of predominantly low-income 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 coping and non-coping households. Cross-tabulating these classes with current poverty definitions indicates a blind spot: about a third of those not considered income poor or energy poor engage in energy coping behaviours. 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. Energy coping blurs the lines of current classifications as some deprived households may not be recognised in poverty statistics or eligibility criteria of welfare and housing policies. Thus, we propose to consider coping behaviour complementary to the energy poverty triad of above-average energy costs, low income and bad housing conditions in order to avoid recognition injustice.