Energy poverty and older Australians: The extent, causes and impacts

Publication Type:
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
Faced with predictions of resource scarcity and climate change impacts in the near future, governments and the global energy sector need to address three big challenges−increased demand for energy security and infrastructure reliability in uncertain scenarios, the urgent need for a clean energy transition towards low-carbon energy sources and energy efficiency, and ensuring the accessibility and affordability of energy supply across the population. Referring to the latter, energy poverty, as it is manifest in more advanced economies, affects millions of people and is the product of three main factors: the cost of energy for essential needs relative to income, the energy efficiency of the home and household income. The issue is largely overlooked in Australia, and the precarious situation in which energy-poor households live is under-researched. Unless there are major interventions, rising energy costs and climate change are likely to increase household energy expenditure in future decades, widening and accentuating the problem. Living in poor indoor environmental conditions due to energy poverty is a health risk, especially for older people (those aged 65 years and over), who constitute a growing proportion of the population, especially in advanced economies. Low-income older households are among the most vulnerable to energy poverty. This study examines energy poverty among older Australians on low incomes, to understand the extent of the issue amongst this group, the contributing factors and its impacts. The research design uses a mixed methods approach. A quantitative analysis of the Australian Housing Conditions Dataset, published in 2019, enabled a generic understanding of the extent of energy poverty among older households and the housing conditions that might contribute to it. To complement it, a qualitative analysis of 23 in-depth semi-structured interviews presents the voices of those who suffer energy poverty. Their perspectives on the factors that shape their experience of energy poverty added original insights into the study. Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of field, capital, symbolic violence, and habitus were used to analyse the interviews. A key focus, drawing on Amartya Sen’s concept of capabilities, is how energy poverty affects Age Pensioners’ capacity to lead a decent life. With contributions that extend the body of knowledge about the extent, causes and impacts of energy poverty in Australia and broader theory advancement, this research provides a basis for better policy frameworks and potential solutions to alleviate energy poverty among vulnerable households.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: