Wind turbines in Boulogne-sur-mer, France. Photo: Getty Images
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The UK is one of the worst nations in the EU for renewable energy

The latest figures on the progress EU nations are making towards reducing their use of non-renewable energy show the UK scraping in near the bottom of the class.

The United Kingdom is doing piss-poorly in increasing its use of renewable energy in comparison to its European counterparts, according to figures released this week. The UK is the farthest, by considerable distance, from in reaching its Europe 2020 target for reducing emissions, relative to other EU nations.

According to Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, the 26-member block broke past 15 per cent of energy coming from renewable sources in 2013, up from 14.3 per cent in 2012. The EU already seems to be well on its way to reach its target of the gross share of renewable energy consumption being 20 per cent by 2020. That "gross share" is defined by the Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC as the total amount of renewable energy supplied to industry, transport, households, services, agriculture, forestry and fisheries - and every EU Member States has its own Europe 2020 target, many of which are much higher than 20 per cent. It means that the EU needs an average rise of 0.7 per cent a year to reach a 19.9 per cent by 2020.

Looking through the status for different EU nations, however, shows that some countries are much, much better than others at getting on with the task. Although by no means a competition, Sweden is miles ahead - it produced 52.1 per cent of its energy from renewable sources in 2013, beating contenders Latvia (37.1 per cent), Finland (36.8 per cent) and Austria (32.6 per cent) by some distance. The UK, by contrast, only managed a renewable share of 5.1 per cent, putting it in the bottom four with the Netherlands (4.5 per cent), Malta (3.8 per cent) and Luxembourg (3.6 per cent).

Bulgaria, Estonia and Sweden have already reached their 2020 target, and nearly at the finish line as well are Lithuania, Romania and Italy, each less than 0.5 percentage points from their targets. Not only does the UK have one of the most unambitious targets - 15 per cent, compared to 30 for Denmark, for example, or 67.5 for Norway - but it's also the farthest away of any EU nation. The EU may appear on course to meet the 2020 goal, but some nations are pulling their weight more than others.

Tosin Thompson writes about science and was the New Statesman's 2015 Wellcome Trust Scholar. 

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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland