17 Oct Keeping the Lights on
October is Energy Awareness Month. This is a time where governments and agencies discuss and celebrate energy management and improving energy technologies.
However, in light of escalating disparity, rapidly increasing cost of living, and our current housing crisis, we have another take on energy awareness.
Most households in Canada spend less than 3% of their after-tax income on their energy needs. When a household spends more than 6% on home energy services, they are experiencing “energy poverty”.
Across Simcoe Muskoka, there are communities where up to 45% of households facing this high energy cost burden.
High energy bills can be difficult to keep up with and the implications are significant:
- Discomfort from living in cold and drafty homes
- Disruptions from abrupt utility shutoffs, such as inability to cook and spoiled food
- Sacrificing other essentials such as groceries and medication to keep up with energy bills
- Increased incidence of respiratory illness in children and infants
- Higher stress and poor mental health outcomes for adults
- Difficulty participating fully in community life
The impossible choice
When resources are limited, households are faced with the dilemma of whether to make rent/mortgage payments, purchase groceries, or pay their utility bills. When the alternative is the risk of homelessness or your family going hungry, more and more households are finding themselves falling behind on utility payments. This impossible ‘choice’ is becoming more prevalent across the communities served by your United Way, and it is disproportionately impacting racialized, low-income, and rural households.
The United Way Simcoe Muskoka Call Centre helps to connect low-income households with financial support to help with arrears on utility bills through the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program. We have seen a significant shift over the past year:
80% of individuals are having difficulty keeping up with utility payments due to unexpected expenses – this is up from 56% last year and is largely due to increased housing costs
7,686 of the individuals that applied for assistance through the call centre did so for the first time – this indicates a significant jump in the number of residents experiencing energy poverty
11% of grant requests through United Way Simcoe Muskoka’s Urgent Needs Fund are due to insufficient funds to cover utility costs
Your United Way is helping to keep the lights on and homes heated by supporting low-income residents through the Urgent Needs Fund and by partnering with Ontario utility companies to administer the Low-income Energy Assistance Program.
However, these efforts are not long-term solutions.
Policymakers need to acknowledge and understand that escalating energy costs are disproportionately impacting low-income, racialized, recent immigrant, and Indigenous households. We need all levels of government to work together to establish effective programs and policies that will target, address, and overcome the issue head on with long-term systemic changes.
As we approach the municipal election, now is a good time to ask candidates how they will address energy poverty. No one should have to choose between keeping the lights on or feeding their family.
If you’re struggling to keep up with high utility costs, visit the Ontario Energy Board’s website for information on bill assistance programs.
To find out if you’re eligible for free energy-saving products like LED lighting, timers, and faucet aerators and learn more about Ontario’s Energy Affordability Program, visit the Save on Energy Website.
Now is a good time to start winter proofing your home to save energy and reduce your utility costs. Check out the Enbridge Gas Home Winterproofing Program to see if you qualify for free upgrades to your home.