Energy poverty and social relations: a capabilities approach
Energy poverty is widely understood to be a complex and multi-faceted problem, with a range of drivers. In this paper we draw on secondary qualitative data on energy poverty from the UK, as well as conceptual thinking informed by the capabilities approach, to explore a previously understudied facet of energy poverty: social relations. We focus particularly on how relationships with family, friends, agencies and distant others impact on people’s ability to cope with energy poverty. We find that the connection between social relations and energy poverty is recursive: good social relations can both enable access to energy services, and be a product of such access. This connection is also shaped by structural factors, such as access to a range of resources, membership of particular collectivities, the need to perform social roles, and the common reasons used to explain poverty and energy use. Our work suggests that attempts to address energy poverty need to take into account the quality of people’s social relations, as well as the potential impact of policy and practice on social relations, given that people rely on their friends and families for information support and advice, on key agency workers for access to resources, and are also constrained by discourses of poverty.