Rising gas prices are leading to an increasing number of problems across Europe. In the EU, the number of households who are no longer able to pay the energy bills is rising. European heads of government will meet in Slovenia tonight to discuss possible solutions.
Italy is one of the countries where it is already a major problem. There, before the corona crisis, almost 10 percent of families lived in so-called ‘energy poverty‘. That number has only increased.
Take Susanna Maccagni, single mother from Brescia in northern Italy. “This is the December and January 2018 gas bill: 301 euros,” she shows in a thick binder she keeps in her wardrobe. “And this is the one last winter: 527 euros.”
‘I hold my heart’
Gas and electricity prices had already risen in recent years, but things are going even harder this fall. In Italy, electricity prices are rising by 30 percent and gas prices by 14 percent. “I haven‘t gotten the bill for this month,” says Maccagni, “but I hold my heart.”
It’s not the first time Maccagni has concerns about money. After her divorce, her partner‘s income fell away and she had to grubbish it on her own. She found a job in the canteen of a school, earning about 1000 euros a month. “That made me manage to pay off in installments.”
But she lost that job during the corona crisis. “I’ll be able to pay the bills. It always works out,” she puts it into perspective. “I just don‘t know how.”
Increased post-corona poverty
Pandemic has caused many people in this region to be in the same situation, sees social worker Anna Attolico. Her organization provides a hundred families with help paying the bills and other problems.
“Energy poverty precedes several stories,” she says. “If you have to choose between paying the bill and going to the dentist, you soon stop going to the dentist. It’s those daily choices that cause a lot of families to slip.”
Maccagni recognizes it. “I let the holes fill, but for more expensive things is no money.” Heating the house has always succeeded so far. “We put the heating at night two degrees colder than during the day, and never higher than 19.” She hopes to make it through this winter too.
To prevent rising energy prices from being fully charged to consumers, Italian Prime Minister Draghi recently announced a package of measures worth EUR 3 billion. Countries such as the Netherlands, Spain and France have also announced measures. Yet the pressure on the EU is growing to come up with a joint solution as well.
Spain suggested this week that the EU should buy gas collectively to reduce the price. The committee is also considering a solution for poor households. For example, Commissioner Frans Timmermans wants European money to go to households who are no longer able to pay the bills, in order to distribute the costs of the climate approach more equitably.
The committee‘s great fear is that if energy bills continue to rise, support for European climate measures will be reduced. Fossil fuels will be increasingly expensive in the coming years, and the yellow vest demonstrations across Europe are still fresh in the memory of many heads of government.
‘I‘d rather count on my own power’
Susanna Maccagni doesn‘t know if she would go out on the streets. “If it’s a peaceful demonstration, it‘s. I know so many people in this situation who are ashamed. It’s better to show that we‘re there.” Organizing such a protest herself does not see them in front of her. “I’ve had a thousand things on my mind, and I can‘t do that.”
Maccagni does not expect anything from the Italian government, or even the European Union. “If any help comes, it certainly makes my situation easier. But I tell everyone I’m looking for work, and I‘m sure there’s going to be something. I would rather count on my own strength than government measures.”