Inequalities in Europe: when housing and energy are a luxury

In recent years, income and wealth inequalities in Europe have become increasingly present in public debates. Already in 2017, the European Pillar of Social Rights, presented by the European Commission, set out 20 key principles to enhance social justice in the EU. The principles are structured around three categories: equal opportunities and access to labour markets, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion.

In particular, the last two points, principle 19 and 20 of the Social protection and inclusion, refer to affordable housing and access to essential services of good quality, like ‘water, sanitation, energy, transport, financial services and digital communications.’

But how can we define good quality of housing?

It is a matter of affordability. Experts say housing can be deemed affordable only if, amongst other things, it is physically adequate and fit for human habitation. Providing access to quality affordable housing is also the objective of UN Sustainable Development Goal number 11, which aims – by 2030 – at reducing drastically the quantity of people living below the minimum standards. 

However, despite the EU being founded on principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as of today, for many Europeans basic services and an affordable household are still a luxury. Many households in Europe still lack access to affordable and adequate levels of energy services.

According to information shared by the European Commission, in 2009 between 50 and 125 million people were unable to afford proper indoor thermal comfort. This strong inequality, known as the energy divide – or, in some cases, energy poverty – is usually related to low incomes and poor housing condition. In fact, if dwellings are inefficient or too old, they are probably more expensive to heat, thus obliging the residents to purchase less affordable energy services.

According to a WHO research, “Housing, energy and thermal comfort,” one in seven households in Europe is in or at the margins of fuel poverty. However, housing – a safe, affordable, and environmentally sound one – should not be a commodity nor a luxury.

This is also endorsed by EU citizens: a poll indicated that 89 percent of them agree that the EU must ensure access to affordable housing and household energy. After all, our Union is based on equality and rights, and no right is more important than having a sound roof on your head and a clean space to live and grow in.

Join Habitat for Humanity’s call to solve the housing crisis in the EU, sign our petition here.

Habitat for Humanity, Europe, Middle East and Africa

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