Sunday, October 2

Energy poverty strikes in Extremadura: “There is a ‘vitro’, heating and oven; but we don’t use them”

Just enter in the kitchen it is obvious that on the glass ceramic hob there is a gas stove with two burners, connected to a butane bottle, and another bottle next to it in reserve. There is also an oven and microwave, unused; the same as the air duct heating that the house has (also electric), as revealed by the deactivated control knob in the living room, where even at noon the coat is not in the way. In the home they share the families of Yessenia Vázquez and Tatiana Vidal in Cáceres there are the resources, but not the financial means, to pay for its implementation. It is called energy poverty and it is one of the forms of vulnerability that affects many families to varying degrees. “We do not use energy much because the cost is very high and at the moment we cannot afford it,” acknowledges Yessania Vázquez.

The food is provided, in part, in the soup kitchen of the Sisters of Charity, to which they go every day for rations for the three adults and the four children between 2 and 15 years old who live in the house. “Thanks to that we don’t have to spend cooking,” he says. For the rest, “we managed with the butane stove; the microwave and the oven did not occur to us to turn them on.” In addition, instead of connecting the heating for the whole house, “we use air heaters in the rooms to heat them a little; but with care, because if not, we will not be able to pay the bill,” he warns. They turn them on for an hour every night, before going to sleep and also speed up the showers to the maximum so that consumption does not skyrocket with hot water.

Taking into account, the only electrical appliances that are used in the house are the refrigerator, the washing machine and “for a while the TV, but little”, clarifies Yessenia.

Every kilowatt counts, every kilo of gas also when the only income is scarce and sporadic, when someone calls one of the two sisters-in-law for cleaning tasks.

Yessenia’s husband, Luis, has yet to find anything in the two months that both families have been in Spain, after hastily leaving Colombia. It was as a result of an incident in the restaurant that one of them ran and that made them fear for the family, according to what they say. Since they arrived in Cáceres, it is Cáritas who has been supporting them, both to find a home, to put the children in school, or to face part of the payment for supplies. As their situation is not regularized, they do not have access to any of the aid that exists for vulnerable families. “The help from Cáritas is very great and we try to contribute what we can. That is why we only want time to pass and we can start working,” they say.

Double in aid

From Cáritas Diocesana Coria-Cáceres they recall that in the general report ‘Analysis and Perspectives 2021’ they already highlight that the families in which the crisis has had the greatest impact covid are those with minors and those whose country of origin is a determining factor in their situation. This report highlights that severe poverty has not stopped increasing and 25% of households are experiencing serious difficulties. “The reality that is presented to us in Cáritas Diocesana de Coria-Cáceres is not far from that mentioned above at the national level,” they point out from the organization.

“We tell them to allocate what they earn to rent and supplies, and we give them food”, Rosa Infantes

Many people arrive at the Parish Caritas centers who are already “accumulators of crises”, that they do not meet their basic needs and that it is also impossible for them to access the social coverage of aid offered by the public administration. Like the families of Yessenia, Luis and Tatiana, they go to Cáritas as a last resort, seeking help to cover basic housing payments, be they rent or supplies.

With the high cost of supplies and housing prices, the demands and the amount have increased in the last year. In the city of Cáceres, aid has been provided to 185 beneficiaries throughout 2021 for the payment of supplies, representing a total of 195 aid for electricity, gas and water. In 2020, there were 166 beneficiaries and 174 direct grants. “But the total economic expenditure to pay for supplies to the most disadvantaged and poor households has practically doubled compared to the previous year,” they point out. The bills have gotten more expensive.

In the case of Badajoz, they do not have the feeling that the demand for Caritas has increased especially, although they believe that it has also been due to direct aid that the city council has granted at the end of this year. They had to close the call ahead of time because they had exceeded the limit and this is in addition to the aid of vital minimum supplies that each year offers the Junta de Extremadura and the consistories manage through their social services. The problem is that these grants, which are convened in the month of March, do not reach everyone.

In the case of Cáritas Diocesana of the Archdiocese of Mérida-Badajoz, they do not have updated data, which makes it difficult to know the reality of vulnerable families who remain outside the margins of official aid. The feeling there is that the requests do not exceed in excess those of other years, “but by force the increase in the price of supplies must be noticed, although it is not something that has been influenced,” says Teresa Castellanos, coordinator of community animation team. Proof of this is that in some of the parish delegations, such as that of San Fernando, they have transferred the intention to change the standards established for care, because they understand that they do not adjust to reality. They have stipulated that the cost of a family with one or two members can be 100 euros. But they consider raising the figure because they consider that it is now higher with the increases in electricity.

“Since the price of electricity began to skyrocket, we have worked to lower the bill”, Teresa Morientes

The guideline that they set for the families they help is “that the little they earn they allocate to rent and supplies, because we take care of providing them with food,” says Rosa Infantes, head of the San Roque Parish Caritas in Badajoz, serving about 90 family units. Even so, “sometimes they come to you with a lot of receipts that they have not been able to pay “, bill. On some occasions they are high because the owners of the home in which they reside do not put the supplies in the name of the tenant, one of the requirements that are demanded to be able to access the social bonus or the help of vital minimums.

Training to read the invoice

The strategy at the Red Cross is to work on more efficient consumption. When the price of electricity began to skyrocket in the summer months, the NGO began to contact extremely vulnerable users among the 4,000 families they serve in the region. “We explained how it could affect them, how they should put the washing machine so that they could save. And we also warned them to review the invoice to see there when they spent more or less, “says Teresa Morientes, from the Department of Social Intervention of the Red Cross in Cáceres. In some cases they have also paid for the supply, although more sporadically, if the social services could not do it or if they couldn’t come up with the amount owed.

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In addition, the Red Cross is working with an application that allows families to make an energy diagnosis. “They are asked a series of questions about the situation of the house, if they have dampness, if they are old and if they use gas or diesel …”, explains Morientes as an example of the procedure. With the conclusions, they advise them on whether they have to change the power of the light, the habits or even the supply company. Also if they need to undertake any reform. “For example, we see that it is important that they change the windows. We cannot do it ourselves, but we help them find someone who can do it for a price they can afford,” he says. In the families with more difficulties, they also delivered some kits with energy-saving light bulbs or weather stripping to place on doors and windows. That if poverty does not allow to bring heat to the house, at least the passage to the cold is cut off.

66,000 families have a social bonus

In Extremadura there are 65,862 families that have the social bonus, a discount on the electricity bill regulated by the Government, which aims to protect households considered vulnerable. Users must process it directly with the electricity companies as long as a series of requirements are met, including being considered a customer with some degree of vulnerability (vulnerable customer, severe vulnerable customer or severe vulnerable customer at risk of social exclusion). In addition, to access the aid, you must have contracted a PVPC electricity rate (with or without time discrimination) and a power equal to or less than 10 kW in the habitual residence. For this, the person requesting it must be the owner of the contract, which sometimes makes it difficult for those who need it to benefit from it, especially in the case of those who are at greater risk of exclusion, who are also those who have the most difficulties in accessing a home. The aid ranges between 60% and 70%, with the modification of the criteria that the Government introduced until March 2022 due to the rise in electricity prices. The beneficiaries of the electricity social bonus are also the beneficiaries of the thermal bonus to reduce the bill for gas consumption.

“It is true that the inquiries we receive from people interested in taking advantage of the social bonus have increased a lot”, highlights Elena González, from the Union of Consumers of Extremadura (Ucex). In his opinion, the measures adopted, both in the reduction of taxes and the increase in the aid of the social bonus, are alleviating the situation of many families.

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