Labour MEPs this week voted to adopt a European Parliament report setting out a programme to tackle poverty and rising housing costs across Europe. The report represents a step towards the European pillar of social rights, and affirms that there can be no fight against poverty without a fight against gender equality.
Labour MEPs are asking for a European Commission proposal aiming to strengthen the EU’s social policy, and for urgent action from European governments to alleviate the poverty and exclusion suffered by the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. The report calls for a holistic approach to tackling poverty and social exclusion, and addresses, in particular, questions about housing and energy policies.
The report highlights the fact that poor households, many of which are headed by single mothers and older women carers, spend the largest proportion of their income on food, housing and utilities. It calls for the European Union to define energy poverty, to ensure a right to housing assistance and affordable rented accommodation, to implement a winter heating disconnection moratorium and to ensure high quality and affordable public services for all.
In 2015, the average annual electricity bill for medium-sized houses in the UK was £1344. The cost of energy puts a huge strain on people with lower incomes. As a result, 12% of EU citizens were unable to keep their homes adequately warm in 2014. This entails 10% of male headed households versus 17% of single-parent, overwhelmingly female-headed households.
Julie Ward, lead on the report on behalf of the Women's Rights Committee. She says
"The financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures can be seen to negatively affect women more than men, causing a feminisation of poverty. When women don't have enough money to pay the bills it's their dependents who also suffer, particularly children and elderly relatives. Women are more likely to be in precarious employment so managing household budgets to ensure that children are warm, clothed and fed can be very challenging when energy and other utility costs are high." Julie Ward added, "The U.K. is the world’s 6th richest country in the world and it is scandalous that so many of our youngest citizens are living in poverty. When a child goes to school hungry they cannot concentrate so their education suffers. That is why a holistic approach to energy policy is required."