Wednesday, 12 February 2020

To be Poor in Spain

A happy life includes a companion to share it with, good health, shelter, food on the table... and a table. A surprising number of people in Spain have been found to be without the last three of these absolutes.
We begin with a depressing title from El País in English: ‘Spain’s social protection system is broken, says United Nations expert on Poverty and Human Rights’. It adds, ‘After a 12-day visit, Special Rapporteur Philip Alston concludes that ‘people in poverty have been largely failed by policymakers’’. The savage report continues ‘...This expert described “deep, widespread poverty and high unemployment, a housing crisis of stunning proportions, a completely inadequate social-protection system that leaves large numbers of people in poverty by design, a segregated and increasingly anachronistic education system, a fiscal system that provides far more benefits to the wealthy than the poor, and an entrenched bureaucratic mentality in many parts of the government that values formalistic procedures over the well-being of people.”...’.
The story has been picked up by The Guardian here ‘Spain abandoning the poor despite economic recovery, says UN envoy’, while has an interview with Alston and leads with ‘“The authorities turn a blind eye to the conditions of immigrant day labourers”’.
He did a full job, too. Alston visited the hovels where the immigrant farm-labourers live – ‘...”I have visited places that I suspect many Spaniards would not recognize as part of their country. Poor neighbourhoods with much worse conditions than a refugee camp”...’.
On another subject, Alston had criticism for rental costs. “The Government does not take control of the rental price seriously”, he is reported as saying in an interview with Público here, adding that he considers housing to be Spain’s leading problem.  Evictions are a major source of social friction, with the Australian Sight Magazine reporting on one in Barcelona: ‘...Thousands of families are evicted each month across Spain, as a combination of over-tourism, rising immigration and a growing urban population push up housing prices, leaving many tenants unable to afford rent, say housing rights advocates. As local activists call on the government for solutions, advocacy groups like Stop Desahucios ("Stop Evictions") are finding ways to help people keep their homes, with some comparing the situation to a refugee crisis. "The housing crisis situation in Spain is comparable to less developed countries where they have seen big displacements," said Santi Mas de Xaxas, spokesman for the Mortgage Victims' Platform (PAH), which runs Stop Desahucios...’.
The high cost of housing, says The Economist here, is an understandable stimulus to vote for populism. ‘...Housing is also a big reason why many people across the rich world feel that the economy does not work for them. Whereas baby-boomers tend to own big, expensive houses, youngsters must increasingly rent somewhere cramped with their friends, fomenting millennials’ resentment of their elders...’.
So, we must travel to La Cañada Real, the largest hobo camp in Spain. Wiki describes it as ‘...a shanty town in the Madrid Region, a linear succession of informal housing following a 14.4-kilometre-long stretch of the drovers' road connecting La Rioja and Ciudad Real...’. It says ‘...The population is mixed, it houses both Spaniards (mainly Roma) and immigrants (mainly from Morocco). As of 2017, it had a population of 7,283...’. El País calls it ‘The forgotten fourteen kilometres of Madrid’.
Not all refugees make it to the sunny uplands of La Cañada Real: The Guardian (Nov 2019) reports ‘...authorities are unable to provide basic shelter and protection to dozens of migrants and asylum seekers, including children. The number of people arriving in the Madrid region to seek asylum has almost doubled over the past year, rising from 20,700 to 41,000...’.
The poorest region of Spain is Extremadura. A report from there says ‘In Spain, 26.1% of the population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion, this percentage rises to 44% in the case of Extremadura.  Although La Crisis of 2008 savaged the incomes of many families, the poverty rate was already worrying even before the recession...’.
We all know the rich from endless articles in the media. But who are the poor?

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