Relationships between poverty and energy
(Endre Simó's lecture at the Central European University in Budapest on 6 February 2018)

The relationship between man and energy is a fundamental question of our sustainment and human race preservation. It is about nutrition, housing, reproduction. Poverty and energy poverty are synonymous concepts. I examine the nexus between the two in circumstances that are characterized by the fact that the amount of energy needed for subsistence and species maintenance is available, that is, there is no energy crisis, nonetheless a large number of people do not have access to it or they have only partially access to the energy.


You have asked me to introduce the nexus between poverty and energy in Hungary. Well, I would like to meet your request and say that in Hungary 3.5-4 million people live below the subsistence level, ie 88 thousand forints (about $ 352, or 293 euros) or less. 1 to 1.5 million people are living from 15-30 thousand HUF each month. It is equivalent to 60 to 120 dollars a month. The minimum wage level reached 88,000 HUF this year, but the minimum subsistence figure of 88,000 HUF was established years ago and has not been raised since! 36 percent of the population live below the minimum wage level. This means that they are not able to reproduce their labor force according to the needs, that is to maintain himself and his family. According to the Institute of World Economics Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in 2012 23 percent of the population was undernourished, meaning that they did not receive fish or meat every two days. According to Eurostat's latest figures today, 36.6 percent of children are at risk of social exclusion. The typical symptom of impoverishment of widespread strata is mass eviction and freeze to death. Since the regime change in 1990 from socialism to capitalism, tens of thousands of people have been expelled from home for insolvency without providing other housing. Only in 2017 they they took the lid over the head of 10 to 11,000 people in 3600 evictions. Since the regime change in 1990, 8,000 people have suffered frost death in the open air or in their unheated homes. There are many many people in the country who have to decide every winter between eating and heating, or buying the medicine. Last winter 238 people have gone off because frozen, from last fall, until the end of January 2018, 114 have died in hypothermia.

This is because 3.5-4 million people do not have access to the income necessary for worthy subsistence. By other words their income is not proportionate to the simple, even less expanded reproduction of their workforce. A massive problem is the lack of daily necessary nutrition calories. Undernourishment is most often expressed by the body mass index (abbreviated TTI) (BMI). People with body mass index below 18.5 are considered undernourished. Two forms of malnutrition are known: in primary malnutrition, the body simply does not get enough nutrition and the nutrients it needs (because of poverty or famine). In a secondary form, with adequate nutrition, the body is unable to digest or absorb consumed food (eg, as a side effect of a disease or drug). A healthy or even overweight person may be qualitatively malnourished if the diet consumed does not contain adequate amounts of minerals, trace elements, proteins or vitamins (eg due to unilateral nutrition).

About one million of pepople have financial porblems for heating their homes properly. In many places, they can only heat with wood or coal if they have it. Fuel prices in a year wnet so high that many people can not buy it more, however they could have bought it so far. From the social firewood supply program only the half of the people in need can benefit. Many people collect wood in the woods and in the floodplains, although it is illegal. The consequence of this is that the one who respects the law risks to die frosted, while others choosing the life instead of respecting the law, risk to finish in prison.

Wood and garbage heating raises environmental problems. Because they cut out trees and pollute the air. Poverty also affects the quality of life of the non-poors. The question is: What is more important, environmental protection or life? The solution is obvious, but it hurts the system's limitations because the system is not concerned with eradicating poverty but maintaining existing distribution conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of households lack electricity. Elecricity Company turned off the lights because they could not pay the utility bill. There are two options in many places: the petroleum lamp or the power outage. It is our experience that turning off electricity is one of the major factors in spiritual and moral decline.

Energy poverty reflexes the social inequality, the growing gap between richness and poverty! According to the data of the Hungarian Social Forum, the 600 richest person in the elite has 16.025 times higher income than our 1.2 million peoples living below the poverty line. A prosperous layer of 490,700 people’s income, accounting for 5 percent of the population, is on average 129 times higher than of the 12 percent below the poverty line.

Energy poverty does not only affect our physical existence, but also the spirit, soul, and moral state of man, his Personality. According to our experience, the man in deep deprivation begins to be spiritually fast-paced and, in the longer term, becomes incapacitated, ineffective to society. Stress, Fear and serious deseases caused by uncertainty stem the picture. The life expectancy of the poorest and most underdeveloped strata is 10 to 15 years lower than the national average.

Our social conditions have an impact on the demographic situation: our population is not only decreasing because many people are looking for their livelihood abroad, but also because energy poverty is a factor influencing procreation due to massive physical decline and infertility. Others do not want offspring because they do not want they also live in misery. On the decline of the population, the current government wants to help with the financial stimulus of childbearing. But its success is uncertain, because the family support system favors the wealthy, but does not change the situation of poor families.

All in all, we can witness that 3.5-4 million people live in absolute or relative energy poverty despite the availability of energy resources. Their income is not proportionate to access to the energy needed for simple and extended reproduction of the labor force.


It is a social issue, which consists of the following elements:

- providing the necessary means of subsistence (work, income for living). (This raises another question: how to create new jobs in the globalisation of the automation of the processes of production, when less and less workforce is needed. Is there a solution in the existing distribution conditions that the mass out of productive work can survive, or is it only possible by changing our social relationships? This may be the subject of another lecture.)

- housing, cheap rental housing, social housing building program would be needed,

- high quality, preventive-oriented healthcare system, but is does not exist,

- high-quality education would be needed,

- adequate social care system would be needed,

- health rehabilitation and reintegration of disadvantaged groups into society would be needed, but they do not exist.

Thank you for your interest in this topic!


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2018-07-20 05:13