Former SPSW PhD student shortlisted for prestigious ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize 2017

Posted on 16 June 2017

Harriet Thomson is recognised for her research carried out during her PhD studies at York

The annual ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize, now in its fifth year, recognises and rewards researchers whose work has made a real difference to society or the economy. The awards ceremony will take place at Central Hall, Westminster on the evening of 21 June 2017, where the winners will be announced.

Harriet was supervised by Senior lecturer in Social Policy Dr Carolyn Snell who said of Harriet's recognition:

"I'm absolutely delighted with the ESRC decision to shortlist Harriet's thesis for the prize. Her work represents an extremely impressive contribution to our knowledge of fuel poverty across the EU."

Harriet's research focussed on measuring the EU’s fuel poverty problem. The impacts and nature of the research are detailed below.

Impacts

  • Dr Harriet Thomson’s easy to understand, colour-coded index of energy poverty across EU 27 countries provided EU policymakers with new measures of the extent of fuel poverty, and new information on its drivers in different countries.
  • Her highlighting of substantial gaps in knowledge about EU fuel poverty helped change how fuel poverty is addressed in the EU. Previously opposed to tackling the issue, since 2014 the EU has invested more than 1 million euros in defining and measuring the problem.
  • She established the EU Fuel Poverty Network, now a leading online platform for information about fuel poverty, and a resource used by MEPs.
  • She has influenced the development and framing of new EU policy approaches to fuel poverty and she has advised European Commission-funded studies on energy poverty indicators.
  • She advised the Socialist and Democrats European Parliament group on its 2016 Energy Poverty Manifesto, leading to a new Parliament resolution.
  • Her research featured in a 2016 UK House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, and an EU policy handbook, published by the Greens/EFA European Parliament Group.
  • She led a successful pan European consortium bid to run the EU Observatory on Energy Poverty, which aims to transform knowledge of energy poverty in Europe, and measures to combat it.

Both Harriet’s Masters’ research and the associated PhD research to address the analytical gaps in policy and statistical understanding of fuel poverty have changed how energy poverty is considered at European level." 

Theresa Griffin, MEP, North West of England

About the research

Dr Thomson stumbled on the topic for her PhD when working at an energy services company that upgraded fuel-poor households into more fuel efficient homes. “I was really struck by how a relatively minor intervention in terms of energy efficiency measures could make a really huge difference to people’s everyday quality of life,” she says.

“Living in fuel poverty is incredibly stressful as well as bad for mental health and well-being,” she points out. “Worrying about how to pay the next bill, feeling too ashamed to invite people into your home because it’s damp and cold, rationing energy use for everyday appliances like computers, those are the kinds of issues faced by about 4.5 million households in the UK.”

Thinking about the problem beyond the UK, however, Dr Thomson could find no recent pan European figures. “Fuel poverty or energy poverty as it’s also called wasn’t really seen as a major issue by the EU five years ago,” she says.

Devising a simple, visual, colour-coded country ranking system of fuel poverty at the household level, enabled her to put some figures to the problem.  “That’s really helped me to bring the subject into the spotlight and change how EU decision-makers think about the issue.”

The enormity of that change, she says, is shown by last year’s EC  ‘Clean Energy for All Europeans’ legislative proposals which call for Member States to define and measure energy poverty, and direct energy efficiency resources at energy poor households. As newly appointed manager of the EU Observatory on Energy Poverty, Dr Thomson’s role will be to help member countries meet these requirements.

Notes to editors:

Dr Harriet Thomson was shortlisted for Outstanding Early Career Impact in the ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize 2017.

EU Fuel Poverty Network www.fuelpoverty.eu

Thomson, H, Bouzarovski, S & Snell, C 2017, 'Rethinking the measurement of energy poverty in Europe: a critical analysis of indicators and data' Indoor and Built Environment.