Energy poverty undermines mental health: it makes me anxious

Arantxa Martin de Leon teach the long list of medications you take on a daily basis. It includes pills to treat heart disease and others to relieve the anxiety with which he lives. “I need to take Lorazepam and antidepressants”, says this 45-year-old mother of two from Madrid. She hasn’t paid the bills since April 2020 because both she and her husband lost their jobs with the arrival of the pandemic: “He had the right to unemployment, but with the collapse of the administration they paid him six months later and we we saw with many debts, we could not afford neither the cost of rent nor that of electricity”, he confesses.

“Receiving calls threatening me that they are going to cut off my electricity makes me anxious. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I can’t”, he adds to The ‘luck’ found her in the disease. They did not cut off her electricity supply because she suffers from Sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that makes him dependent on a machine. “Fortunately I have to sleep with a device all night,” she explains with irony. He requested help for her situation and has managed to keep the supply in the house, although the debt continues to accumulateor. “I’m not calm, I know I have to pay a fortune that I will never have,” she says, while she adds that not being able to pay the bills “is very hard” and there are days that she does not want to get out of bed.

Not being able to pay the bills is very hard and there are days that I don’t even want to get out of bed

Energy poverty is the perfect breeding ground for depression or anxiety. This is confirmed by a pioneering study published in the Gaceta Sanitaria and carried out by researchers from the Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica Sant Pau together with other institutions. The probability of suffering from physical and mental health problems is between three and five times higher in people who suffer from this type of poverty, reflects this report. Mental degradation is even worse among those who were most affected by energy poverty.

Energy poverty increased in 2020 by 22%

In Spain, households that have more and more difficulties in accessing electricity are growing. In fact, two of the four energy poverty indicators have increased: the perception of thermal comfort and the delay in paying bills. These are data from another investigation carried out by the Chair of Energy and Poverty of the Comillas Pontifical University: Indicators of energy poverty in Spain 2020. It reflects that this reality has become “more complex” during the year 2020 due to confinement due to the pandemic, and reflects an uneven evolution with respect to 2019.

10.9% of the population –5.2 million people – could not keep their home at a comfortable temperature during the winter, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE): Survey of Living Conditions and Survey of Family Budgets. In addition, the 9.6% of Spaniards say they have been late in paying bills, compared to 6.6% in 2019.

“Energy poverty in Spain has increased by 22% in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Many people spent more time at home and many lost their jobs,” he says. Cecilia Foronda Diez, Director of Energy and People at ECODES. She explains that the data for 2021 is yet to be known, which will have to add price escalation to the crisis that already existed. In fact, last January he said goodbye as the second -after December- with the price of electricity most expensive in history, with a average that did not drop below 200 euros per megawatt/hour.

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According to the analysis of the Universidad Pontificia Comillas, the results with data from 2020 indicate that the social shield approved by the government in the midst of a health crisis “it could work in the short term”, but the debts are piling up. “We are leaving many people at home feeling cold, receiving threatening letters and burofaxes,” argues Mario Sánchez-Herrero, professor of economics at the Complutense University of Madrid and director of Ecooo, a cooperative that promotes and develops projects in favor of a new sustainable energy model and in the hands of people.

We are leaving many people at home in the cold receiving threatening letters and burofaxes. Directly, you go to bed and you want to die

bale white knows well what energy poverty is. She has worked all her life to raise his five children. She lived in Extremadura and now resides in Madrid. “I’ve always been a poor energy”, confess. At the moment he receives a pension of about 500 euros, insufficient to cover all expenses. For rdo hs decided to be an activist and fight every day to eradicate an increasingly latent reality. “I see myself with little pension and my husband has cancer. We’ve had a lot of problems with the electrical oligopoly,” he says. He gets up at six in the morning to put on a washing machine and goes to bed after twelve at night to turn on the dishwasher.

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Apart from the debate on whether electricity is more or less expensive, the problem, he denounces, is that “they forget” that many people in this country are not even “mileuristas”. “Don’t we pensioners have the right to spend energy?” She asks herself, while clarifying that it is not “just about electricity”, but that they must face many expenses with low income.

“There is rampant energy poverty”

Paca is aware that the situation is getting worse. Every day, due to his involvement with the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages, he answers calls from people who are having a hard time. “If this country does not change and begins to recognize that there is rampant energy poverty, we will have serious problems. There are entire families that are going through calamities and suffer from not being able to pay their bills”, he settles. In addition, she insists that it is a problem that affects women much more, who are the ones who manage the household economy.

“It’s very hard, but I don’t want to cry, I just have to fight so they don’t cut off my electricity and try to change things”, he assures regarding the impact on his mental health. He especially emphasizes that it is the elderly who suffer the most in silence and in solitude: “They have no hope that their income will increase, but their expenses go up. To this we must add their situation of inactivity and confinement to avoid COVID-19 ”, she reflects.

Shield households without resources

Paca gives as an example the operation of the Alliance against Energy Poverty in Barcelona, ​​which has managed to do not cut off the electricity supply to a home without first consulting social services. In fact, it announces that this same month they are expected to present a similar initiative in Madrid.

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For this woman the social shield is insufficient: “There are still evictions and supply cuts”, he argues. The study published in Gaceta Sanitaria corroborates that low-income people, particularly women or immigrants, are the ones who are most exposed to the structural determinants of energy poverty and its consequences for mental health.

They are people who cannot cook, cannot charge their mobile phones, do not have internet access or cannot study. This makes them start, from the beginning, from a more complex situation. The director of Energy and People of ECODES proposes work to empower families that are in a situation of energy poverty.

Housing is a constitutional right, recalls Foronda Díaz, but today you cannot have a decent home without energy. “It is very important that families empower themselves and have knowledge about how they can apply energy efficiency deficit habits in your homer”, he argues. It is It is essential, he adds, that they know the aid that existsthat they know how to apply for the social bonus and see what the most suitable rates are for them.

From Ecooo they agree on the need to give these people the fishing rod instead of the fish. They believe that this is possible at a time when waves of subsidies arrive from the European Union to promote the consumption of renewable energies. “It is crucial that these grants are reserved for poorer neighborhoods and cities. The aid to stimulate self-consumption must be given to people in a precarious situation, “he recalls.

“If you can’t pay a bill every month, but instead of fighting to get your bills paid, you get a source that will provide energy for the next 30 years with the installation of solar panels,” says Sánchez Herrero, this would help. remarkably reduce “existential” angst.

For his part, Paca recalls that there are many families in Spain who live “on the edge of a knife”. She has heard many women in meetings talk about depression. Even “The word suicide sometimes sounds“, he warns.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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