Record numbers seek poverty aid in Spain




Austerity measures and public service cuts in Spain have led to a sharp rise in the numbers of people turning to charitable organisations for help.

A report by Caritas Española, the Spanish branch of the Catholic charity network, points out that over a million people in need sought help from the organisation in 2011, as compared with 370,000 in 2007, prior to the crisis.

Cáritas maintains that the increase is owed to the high levels of unemployment and social cuts, which have weakened the capabilities of the public system. It indicates that the problem is not therefore transitory but structural.

"Social services have not been adapted to tackle this complex combination of problems; there are increasing delays in the allocation of social security benefits, which are meagre, limited in time and subject to stricter requirements," underlines the report.

The organisation warns that public social protection is inadequate, as it fails to cover all citizens and is limited in scope.

The situation is set to worsen over the next few years. The Spanish government’s decision to restrict undocumented immigrants’ access to public health care could further inflate the number of people turning to charities for help.

On 1 September 2012, the health cards of 910,000 people not paying social security contributions were withdrawn.

Hardest hit by the measures are the irregular immigrants living in the country, who will no longer receive free health care from the state.

The only exceptions are emergency cases, such as accidents or serious illnesses, pregnancy, child birth and postnatal care. People with chronic illnesses or infectious diseases will also receive treatment.

The secretary general of Caritas, Sebastián Mora, commented that more undocumented immigrants had requested medical assistance from the organisation.

"They are afraid of being reported to the police when they visit a medical centre, afraid that they will be billed for the treatment or won’t be attended to," Mora explained.

Five out of every ten people assisted by Caritas in 2011 were immigrants, a third of whom were irregular. They are not, however, the only ones affected. According to official figures, more than 10.5 million people are living in poverty in Spain, that is, 21.8% of the population. The main reasons for the rise in poverty are high unemployment and increasing job insecurity.

Caritas points to the high numbers of people that have gone from being newly unemployed, at the beginning of the crisis, to being long-term unemployed. Many young couples (aged between 20 and 40) with children have also been badly affected, along with single mothers.

"The social mechanisms protecting people’s dignity are being eroded at a startling rate," concluded Sebastián Mora. "Given the data from our network of centres, it is becoming ever more manifest that we are living in a poorer, more unequal and more socially unjust society."


This article has been translated from Spanish.