Citizens Suffering From Gas Bills1)
As gas heating costs have risen sharply, people's faces are growing darker every day. Last year, wholesale gas prices rose 5.47 won per MJ four times in April, July, August, and October. It seems only a small number, but the actual rise has increased by 42.3% compared to 2021 due to soaring energy prices, including for international liquefied natural gas (LNG). In addition, electricity bills rose 29.5 percent from a year ago — the highest level in 42 years since January 1981 when there was a second oil shock. The rise in gas costs is largely influenced by the war between Russia and Ukraine that broke out in early 2022. Because Russia threatened European countries such as Germany, who support Ukraine, by cutting off natural gas supplies. Europe responded by moving to gas suppliers in other countries such as the Middle East, which eventually led to the current gas price problems. The problem is that these "heating bill bomb" are a heavy burden not only for households but also for self-employed people. Restaurants and public baths which use a lot of gas are now being hit hard. Lee Huijin, who runs a public bath in Jung-gu, Seoul, said, "The number of customers decreased due to COVID-19, so I turned on the boiler for only four to five hours a day, but the heating bill tripled from the previous month. As COVID-19 ended, the number of customers was increasing little by little and I was hopeful, but I was hit with a big bill, and my hopes disappeared." Self-employed people are hit directly by the fare increases as heating costs have increased several times.
However, this shock does not affect everyone equally. The situation for low-income families, whose heating costs have doubled or tripled compared to usual, is even more difficult. In winter, the bottom 20 percent of low-income households spend about 13 percent of their average disposable income on fuel. The difference is huge compared to other groups, which are only in the 2~5 percent range. This is because their homes are aging buildings with significantly low thermal efficiency. The insulation is thin and gaps around windows and doors are large, so the difference in thermal efficiency is two to four times more for old buildings compared to more modern ones. The presidential office announced that it would support heating costs for vulnerable people, and recently doubled the amount of support to 1.6 million households with gas discounts and 1.17 million households with energy vouchers. However, criticism has emerged that the blind spot for energy support remains as the target of support has not actually expanded. The number of people suffering from heating costs is still large, but those who were not selected as part of the 1.6 million people are still unable to receive support. The government says that they have no plans to come up with additional measures to fill the blind spot of energy aid. It seems necessary to come up with an alternative to prepare for the upcoming summer cooling costs.
1) Seo Bomi, "The "Heating Bill Bomb" Is Not the Same for Everyone", The Hankyoreh, February 4, 2023