Spain is heading for a resounding and painful suspense in the fight against poverty and social exclusion. Like the rest of European countries, ten years ago it acquired the commitment to reduce the population that faces this enormous precariousness in the 2020 European Strategy, but not only has it not reached the goal set, but it has worsened its situation from the starting point. Spain had to reduce the people at risk of poverty and exclusion by 1.5 million this year compared to 2008 levels, but instead we have entered 2020 with one million more people in this situation. “Reaching this figure throughout this year is already impossible, even without taking into account the enormous economic-social consequences that the COVID-19 pandemic will have,” warns the latest annual report of the European Network to Combat Poverty. and Social Exclusion in the Spanish State (EAPN-ES).
Poverty among children worsened last year in Spain despite economic growth
The “unmitigated failure” in this international commitment has been a chronicle announced in recent years, but the coalition of social organizations has already certified it in their latest annual report on the state of poverty in Spain. In absolute terms, in 2008 there were about 10.87 million people in AROPE and in 2019, the last year with official data closed in this regard, there are 11.87 million people, highlights the study, led by Juan Carlos Llano Ortiz.
“And we do not want to imagine what will happen to COVID,” the president of the EAPN in Spain and Europe, Carlos Susías, has warned. The organization considers that it is still too early to know what the increase in poverty will be with regard to the pandemic and, although they emphasize that the social measures to face this new crisis are “very different” from those of the past recession, they assume that there will be an increase given the economic disaster caused by the coronavirus. This is already witnessed by the NGOs with the large increase in people who have had to ask for help in this crisis, to eat and meet other essential expenses.
Spain is going to suspend after six years of economic growth, something that social organizations emphasize: an increase in GDP, employment and a reduction in unemployment does not by itself end poverty. More is and was needed more, the EAPN highlights, some public social protection policies that Spain has not implemented in the years of economic improvement. The country is one million people in poverty and exclusion compared to the starting point of 2008, at the beginning of the last financial crisis, to which must be added the other million and a half that the country promised to remove from this situation of great vulnerability. Two and a half million people in poverty and exclusion (measured according to the AROPE indicator) compared to the commitment signed in the EU.
The 2019 data “clearly indicate that Spain did not manage to improve any of the indicators proposed for evaluation compared to 2008. Thus, the AROPE indicator increased by 6.3% and all its components did as well. : the at-risk-of-poverty rate at 4.5%, severe material deprivation at 30.6% and the low intensity of home employment at 63.6%.
The person in charge of the study stressed that Spain will fail to meet “another objective that is not usually mentioned much”, in the specific goal of reducing child poverty. “In 2008, it was 27% and the objective of reducing it to 23% was set. Now we are at 27.4%, a few tenths more,” he added.
Poorer and in a more precarious situation
The head of the study also highlighted that these data do not fully show the worsening experienced by the population with fewer resources in Spain, which has been more intense. If we take into account the evolution of the population’s income since 2008 and the increase in prices, the evolution of the CPI, “all the population groups have lost consumption capacity since 2008 and those that more, the population groups more Poor “, Llano Ortiz highlighted, with an average 10% drop in the purchasing power of the quartile of the population with the lowest income (it results from dividing the population into four groups according to their income), while the richest quartile has reduced it by just under 4%.
The same occurs when assessing the poverty rate, people living on less than 60% of the country’s median income, if the 2008 poverty line is set. Poverty in Europe is measured in terms of inequality: which people live with reduced resources in relation to the income level of the society that surrounds them. Thus, the threshold that defines who is in poverty moves according to the evolution of the population’s income and this has been increasing in recent years.
The EAPN checks what happens if we look at the threshold that defined poverty in 2008, updated with the evolution of prices in these years: the poverty rate instead of standing at the official 20.7% in 2019, with one in five people at risk of poverty, amounts to 23.8%. “The difference with the official rate, which, in this case, is 3.1 percentage points, reflects poor people who disappear: all those who, without modification of their living conditions, cease to be counted as poor due to the exclusive effect of the methodology for calculating the indicator “, highlights the study. Severe poverty, those people who live with incomes below 40% of the median income, increases to 10.2% with this calculation formula, compared to the official 9.2%.
In addition, in this general panorama of average data there are groups that have taken off the hook and face a much more precarious situation than they had before the crisis. A clear example is the unemployed, with a monetary poverty rate of 31.3% in 2008, which has climbed to 43.3% in 2019. Also in single-parent families, in which a single adult takes care of one or more children, with a poverty rate that in 2008 was 36.8% and last year it reached 41.1%. In general, children are “a risk factor for poverty” in Spain, since all households with dependent minors face worse rates of poverty and exclusion than those without them.
Women generally register higher rates of poverty and exclusion than men, with a “structural” gender bias that places them in greater vulnerability hand in hand with greater precariousness in the labor market and greater responsibility in family care . Currently, “there are 640,000 women at risk of poverty and exclusion more than men,” Llano Ortiz pointed out.
Failure is responsible
This resounding suspense, the increase in poverty figures, has an explanation and also responsible. Both in the central Government and in the Autonomous Communities, which are those that have the competence of protection and social inclusion. “Spain is one of the richest countries in the world, we cannot have a social protection system as if we were not,” Carlos Susías condemned.
The EAPN points out the austerity policies applied during the past crisis and maintained in the years of economic recovery, with limited investment in public resources and social policies that in many cases they have not recovered to pre-crisis levels. The platform also explains it by the deterioration of employment, of poorer quality and that in many cases no longer guarantees to get out of situations of economic vulnerability, and by the lack of concrete policies against poverty, such as the minimum vital income level at the state level, which the EAPN has celebrated but has recalled that it is focused on the most acute poverty and will not be able to lift many other families out of precariousness. The minimum living income is necessary, but NGOs warn that it will only fall short. More is needed.
Social groups have urged the coalition government to act against poverty because, as highlighted by the UN rapporteur against poverty Philip Alston in his visit to Spain: poverty in a rich country is not inevitable, it’s a political choice. The EAPN has called on the Executive of Pedro Sánchez to implement the National Strategy against Poverty, valid until 2023, since part of the European funds for recovery are focused on fighting poverty and social exclusion. In his opinion, there are two key issues: improving social housing policies and ensuring a universal child benefit. Preventing more people from worsening their situation and falling into poverty is essential since, as the last crisis has shown, “it is easier to fall into poverty and vulnerability than to get out of it later,” the study emphasizes.