School of Social and Political Science

Rural communities most exposed to risk of energy and transport poverty, new study finds



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Rural residents are most likely to be impacted by the twin pressures of energy poverty and transport poverty simultaneously, a new study by an Edinburgh researcher warns.

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People and families living in rural locations are impacted by energy poverty through a lack of access to nationalised heating infrastructures, increased risk of power cuts, and older homes with poor insulation. Along with this, they are vulnerable to transport poverty issues including declining availability of nearby goods, services and jobs and poorer service from public transport.

This new report comes from the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS), and was co-led by the School of Social and Political Science’s Dr Kirsten Jenkins, Lecturer in Energy, Environment and Society.

A challenge not felt in urban areas

Rural areas often have environmental and infrastructural characteristics that can increase vulnerability to both transport and energy poverty, the study warns. This is in contrast to urban and suburban areas, where the physical environment and infrastructure tends to predominantly increase vulnerability to either transport or energy poverty but not the other.  

The double threat of energy and transport poverty is likely to be especially common where disadvantaged households are disproportionately concentrated in typically rural localities, such as Wales, Australia, France, and much of Eastern Europe, the study authors noted. 

Reinforcing inequalities

The study warns that the impact of energy poverty and transport poverty can be circular, for example, where unaffordable or inaccessible transport also impacts a household’s ability to access domestic energy services, and so can contribute to inequalities.

Dr Kirsten Jenkins said: “The vulnerability to energy and transport poverty highlighted in our research often occurs alongside structural inequalities in society, including systemic income poverty, insecurity and place-based disadvantage. 

“Whilst the systemic nature of these issues and the overlaps between energy and transport poverty make them very hard to resolve, they also make the need for action starkly clear. Decision-makers must recognise the need to collaborate between housing, energy and transport planning at all scales, to ensure that no one is left behind in the process of decarbonisation.” 

New insight into the intersection of energy and transport poverty

Dr Mari Martiskainen, Senior Research Fellow in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex and CREDS' Theme Lead for Equity and Justice, said: “Little research so far has focused on the intersection between domestic energy poverty and transport poverty and so our paper provides new insights into the groups most vulnerable to experiencing both simultaneously. There is a general consensus in the research that inner-urban areas generally pose greater risks for energy poverty, suburban areas for transport poverty and rural areas appear to have the greatest overlap in vulnerability.

“For peripheral communities such as isolated rural locations, transport and energy poverty issues are not an inevitable or natural occurrence linked to geographical location alone but are linked to political-economic decisions around investment, infrastructure and provisioning systems.”

Most vulnerable groups

The study also identified the groups rendered most vulnerable to energy and transport poverty, including:

  • people on low-incomes
  • older people
  • households with children or dependents
  • people with pre-existing health conditions or disabilities
  • women
  • people from ethnic minorities

The research found that the highest level of double energy vulnerability to both energy and transport policy is among households that face a combination of multiple disadvantages while living in marginal or isolated communities. 

Call for a joined-up approach between housing, energy and transport

Policymakers need a cross-sectoral approach incorporating housing, energy and transport planning considerations at all levels of government, the study authors recommend.

Meanwhile, a place-based, localised focus where specific transport and energy poverty issues arise is also recommended by the study published today in the journal Energy Research & Social Science. 

Considerations needed in move to low-carbon society

The study authors also warn that the move to a low-carbon society to meet net zero targets could inadvertently exacerbate the existing combined threat of energy or transport poverty unless the connection between them is understood and accounted for within government policies – with priority given to protecting the most disadvantaged.

Rise in energy prices and fuel shortages highlight inequalities

Dr Neil Simcock, Lecturer in Energy Geography at Liverpool John Moores University and lead author of the study, said: “Recent rises in domestic energy prices and motor fuel shortages have brought home the vital importance of ensuring everyone can keep their homes warm and travel to the services they need. Our research shows that for many people, however, achieving these basic needs is likely to be a major struggle. It is therefore crucial that steps are taken to address deep-rooted inequalities within societies. 

"As part of meeting net-zero targets, policies should ensure that the most disadvantaged people and places are able access and benefit from the low-carbon technologies that can reduce their energy and transport costs.”  

The research process

The study involved a systematic review of an extensive five-year sample period of relevant academic research papers with an analysis of 250 papers across eight different academic databases. 

The team included researchers from Liverpool John Moores University; University of Edinburgh; University of Sussex; Dortmund University; and University of Oxford.

Find out more

Visit the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) website

Visit Dr Kirsten Jenkins SPS profile

Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at the School of Social and Political Science