The deal between the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP) to fight what is known as “fuel poverty” could be interpreted in a variety of ways.
The first reading is that it is more effective to reach political and economic agreements to try to solve people’s problems than to fall back on angry public protests that fail to provide any solutions.
Protection against fuel poverty will not work without efficient coordination between businesses and local and regional authorities
The Socialist Party has made the most of the PP’s minority in Congress to push for a legal change that all other congressional groups will likely agree with.
The deal also underscores that there is a price to pay for the time that was lost forming a government in Spain. The protection measures now on the table could have been addressed many months ago, and already been in place by this winter.
The PSOE-PP deal is a statement of intent that must be ratified through an executive order first, and a change to the Electricity Act later. The gist of it is that a family’s electricity may not be cut off if regional authorities have stated that the former runs a serious risk of social exclusion.
The move aims to avoid cases like that of the elderly lady from Reus who died in a fire started by a candle, and other situations where households are feeling the cold and suffering from associated illnesses because they cannot afford to pay their utility bills.
The protection measures now on the table could have been addressed many months ago
The goal is to ensure that not a single home is left with out electricity in Spain without a green light from local and regional social services.
But in order to ensure that the new protection measures are truly effective, a few basic requirements need to be met. The first is to clearly define the parameters of what constitutes social vulnerability and effective poverty – parameters that will be applied to protect people from fuel poverty.
It is obvious that income should be the main criteria; other considerations such as installed power should be discarded, because they have opened the door to manipulation and abuse of the “social voucher” by people with enough income to pay the standard fare. Since the cost of this new fuel protection will be a part of a social voucher to be paid by the utilities, it is necessary to redefine the eligibility criteria for this subsidy.
Protection against fuel poverty will not work without efficient coordination between businesses and local and regional authorities. It is essential for local governments to have updated lists of at-risk homes so they can quickly relay that information to their regional counterparts; and electricity companies need to accept the new fuel protection rules without protest. It is unacceptable in a European country to put peoples’ health at risk based on unilateral decisions about the supply of an essential service.
This agreement is a decisive step towards citizen welfare. It is important to take it with technical skill, complete consensus and all possible dispatch. Ultimately, this issue will also illustrate whether a policy of deal making between the two main parties is a viable option during this new political term.
English version by Susana Urra.