Philip Alston, (1950, Australia) is the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights and law professor at the University of New York. After two weeks of visit to Spainconcluded that he had seen neighborhoods “in worse conditions than refugee camps“This trip is the last one he does in office.
– Why did you choose to analyze Spain?
– We must visit the northern countries, not just portray the poverty of the southern countries. In this mandate I have evaluated the United States and the United Kingdom, the two great Anglo-Saxon countries. Too China, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Romania. And seeing European statistics, Spain was the country that caught my attention the most. It is one of those with the most serious problems, and at the same time it is among the strongest economies. It is a very important country, with a lot of influence in Latin America and in Europe. The policies adopted here mark those made by other countries.
– In your report it makes clear that in recent years Spanish politicians have ruled for the rich and have forgotten the rest of the population. Who is guilty?
– The most serious thing is that there is no single party responsible for this. All governments of the last 15 years They have applied neoliberal policies. They have helped the upper classes increase their wealth, and have done absolutely nothing for the most impoverished, who have increased. We are not talking about a single mandate. We could trace back to the first privatizations of the ‘Aznar era’.
– And what policies have caused it?
– They have lowered taxes for higher incomes and large corporations to have more benefits. Nor have they attacked tax evasion aggressively. And on the other hand, no one has faced the housing problem, they have not spent anything on social housing, they have not improved funding for schools, nor have social benefits. They have made the upper classes 26% richer, and the poor even more so.
– Is Spain on the list of most neoliberal countries in the world and we didn’t know it?
– It has not gone as far as Chile or the United Kingdom in the era of Margaret Tatcher, but they have been following this direction for more than a decade. This is precisely what I meant when I wrote that Spain should look closely in the mirror. The Spanish believe that their country is very equal€ but this image belongs to the past, people are not aware of what is happening. And the new Coalition Government should change this course urgently.
– It seems that you have high hopes with the Coalition Government €
– I think it’s good that the Government and Vice President Iglesias talk about poverty, Spain emptied, evictions… I hope you have the support of the rest of the parties to reverse this situation. It seems difficult, but I would like the most vulnerable to take relevance and politicians to be forced to address their problems.
– In your report you also talk extensively about child poverty, school segregation € Is it one of the issues that worries you most?
– One in three Spanish children is poor. The rulers must apply serious programs to stop it. It will not solve itself. Poverty is hereditary, this is what statistics say. These children go to lower quality schools, leave before the studies € do not access the social elevator. And if you don’t face it, it will be very expensive.
– What does the future hold?
– I recommend Spanish politicians to take note of the protests of the yellow vests in France, Santiago de Chile € E either acts against poverty or there will be protests like there. There will come a point that people’s discomfort will become uncontrollable. Y housing is a very particular issue in Spain that if it is not addressed in the next five years, it will end up exploding. It is what is happening all over the world. Spain is no different.
– About the situation of immigrants, what is your opinion?
– Many die to reach Spain. But once here, governments pretend to show that they are not there and force them to the black market. It is important that they can live decently.
– You highlighted the rent regulation as one of the great measures to adopt, and regretted that “only real estate is heard”. Has this country been ruled for rentiers?
– Which is better, the free market or that the Government takes control? In Spain nobody has asked this question. Ideology, neoliberalism, especially with the housing problem has been applied. No alternatives have been tried. Many measures could be taken against the park of empty apartments, apply taxes, control the price of rentals € Especially when the problem is of such magnitude that They are evicting people over 80 years old, that young people have nowhere to go to live... It is absurd to stay in the old debates. A little over a week ago, the Bank of Spain said that rent control would not work. Well look, building more social housing will not change anything in the next five years. We must sophisticate the debate, try that other proposals are also on the table.
– In the case of emptied Spain, but also shanty towns, the situation of the Roma … in his report he speaks of resigned politicians.
– It’s sad, but it’s as normal. No politician will face serious problems if there is no public pressure. And these three problems you have named have been ignored. You have to make noise, say ‘there’s a problem here’ so that politicians have to take sides and do something.
– Nobody listens to the poor?
– This is the role that I have come to play. Dealing with people whose voice is not usually heard, and from the UN we give it an international dimension that can help. Because those of the other balance (large companies, higher incomes) are constantly influencing politics at all levels.