A pack of rice, a mesh of oranges, a pack of yogurt, a box of fruit juices, six of milk, two of cookies, cans of natural tuna, a bag of macaroni and a bar of bread. It is what Cristina has bought with the redeemable voucher that she is given every month at the town hall of the Ciudad Real municipality where she lives. He has two children, ages 4 and 9, and until July 2021 he worked in a cleaning company, but with the pandemic he lost his job and now survives by cleaning doorways and private homes.
Officially, Cristina is in a “severe material deprivation situation”, which outside of institutional and bureaucratic language means that she is poor. With the meager 500 euros that she earns a month, she has to pay the rent and supplies, as well as feed and clothe herself and her two children. "It doesn't come to us at all, there are months in which on the 20th I no longer have money and the world comes crashing down on me," he says.
But what causes her the most suffering is that her children also have to experience this situation: “The king and queen have not been able to bring them anything, I cannot buy them the basics, they give us the clothes they wear, they are cold now in winter because Plugging in the radiators is a luxury […] Sometimes the older one sees me crying and comes over to hug me”.
The director of the Spanish Federation of Food Banks (FESBAL), Miguel Fernández, summarizes the economic impact that the coronavirus has had on thousands of families: “At the beginning of 2020 we served around one million people, but that same year it ended with more than a million and a half beneficiaries, 50% more”. Among all those people who come for help, "more than 300,000 are girls and boys up to 15 years old."
Consequences for life
Spain is the third country in the European Union —behind only Romania and Bulgaria— with the highest rate of child poverty and social exclusion, according to the latest report published by the NGO Save the Children. Specifically, one in three children under the age of 18 (more than two million) is poor in our country, which means, as established by the European standards themselves, that the family nucleus of which they are a part cannot afford doing things like eating meat or fish at least every two days, or keeping the house at a suitable temperature throughout the year.
The document emphasizes that economic deprivation at an early age can have negative consequences in the social, health and physical and emotional development of children throughout their lives. It has been shown that these minors are more likely to have a lower performance in class than the rest of their peers, and when they grow up, they have much more difficulties finding a decent job, in addition to suffering health problems such as respiratory or bone problems due to to having spent many years living in poorly acclimatized environments and having had a nutritionally deficient diet.
The text also highlights, for example, the low supply of social housing that exists in a Spain that, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), has the lowest ratio of this type of housing solution, and it is the fourth country with the least social rental housing in the entire European Union.
Some alarming figures
Child poverty began to skyrocket more than a decade ago as a result of the financial crisis of 2008. During the immediately following years, in our country there were around three million of children suffering from material deprivation and risk of social exclusion. Later, the numbers stabilized, with slight improvements and timid decreases, but since 2020 the coronavirus pandemic has caused a new setback and increased the figures for inequality.
A boy sitting on some stepsRalf Geithe iStock
The figure of the High Commissioner for the Fight against Child Poverty was born in 2018 because Spain is one of the territories with the worst data in the entire EU. Its deputy director, Albert Arcarons, assures that on the continent in general, and in our country in particular, there is a structural problem with child poverty and exclusion, which the impact of the pandemic has magnified, and that "mortgages the democratic future of Europe, because social cohesion is put at risk by leaving children so unprotected”.
To try to mitigate the impact, the European Commission has urged the Member States to issue a plan with medium-term objectives to try to achieve the so-called European child guarantee, a community horizon that seeks to eradicate poverty and social exclusion of children. minors through the implementation of policies so that these excluded boys and girls have guaranteed access to basic public services such as education, adequate housing, or at least one healthy meal every day they have school.
Last November, the Minister of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda, Ione Belarra, announced that the Government would have at its disposal more than 500 million euros until 2027 to fight child poverty, and that this amount would be they will add another 250 million that the Spanish Administration will contribute.
"You're gonna come to my house and tell me how to wash my grapes" -Quentin— MoeDiffy Wed Apr 23 02:21:16 +0000 2014
However, for the money to flow, the Government must submit its proposal to the European Commission before mid-March 2022. Europe has ruled that those countries in which the rate of poverty and child exclusion is above the media —as is the case in Spain—, must dedicate a minimum of 5% of the European Social Fund Plus to combating this social emergency. In any case, our country is among the few community partners that already have a strategy to apply the child guarantee on the table, as confirmed by the High Commissioner.
Arcarons points out that "Spain was one of the nations that promoted the initiative of the European child guarantee", but clarifies that our country had already "been working in this line long before, approving measures such as the strategy of prevention and fight against poverty [validated in 2019 by the Ministry of Health], or the launch of the Minimum Vital Income”, although he acknowledges that the latter “is not reaching the objectives that it had set”.
Cold weather and poor nutrition
In his study Geography of child poverty in Spain, the Commissioner himself concludes that the children hardest hit by poverty come from single-parent families —like Cristina's children— or numerous (more than four members), and reside in rural or economically depressed areas. In addition, most of the boys and girls at risk of exclusion (around 40%) belong to a family where at least one of the parents has a job, which questions the belief that poverty is linked to unemployment, or rather , that having a job is the guarantee for not being poor.
Fernández agrees with the official data and explains that the profile of those who ask for help in food banks has changed: “It is no longer only people in severe poverty who come, but also families who had average incomes before the crisis or low. In addition, there has been an increase in families with dependent children and even more so in single-parent families”.
Another of the issues that NGOs emphasize is the need to maintain dining scholarships, since they ensure that minors eat at least one healthy meal a day. However, in Spain, dining room scholarships only cover a little more than 10% of school-age children.
Related to food and income level is also childhood obesity, which doubles in those families where less than 18,000 euros are earned per year. And it is that filling the shopping cart with ultra-processed foods and full of sugars and hydrogenated fats such as those contained in industrial pastries is much cheaper than doing it with fresh food and fruit.
“I wish I could give them toast with olive oil and Serrano ham, but I can't afford it. I know that buns are fattening and unhealthy, but at least they don't go to school without lunch,” says Cristina, who has also been particularly affected by the rise in the price of electricity and butane. “In Cáritas they gave us five blankets and three quilts, and with that we slept. In addition to dresses, of course.
Photograph of the interior of a soup kitchenkuarmungadd iStock
After the new electricity pricing promoted by the Government last June, the price of electricity began to rise, breaking the record of its historical price several times, some days even consecutively. The Executive took measures to try to reduce the impact on consumer bills, but even so the high price has remained since then.
“In summer we didn't care. Let's see, we've been hot, but it's bearable. The bad thing is when the cold has started [...] We have two heaters, one electric and the other with a cylinder, but the butane is an outrageous amount that has risen. Before it was worth 12 euros and now it is almost 20. And we don't put the other one either because, if not, the light eats us up”.
The rich just got richer
The pandemic has further widened the gap between rich and poor. This is the conclusion of the latest Oxfam Intermón study, Inequalities kill. According to data from the NGO, during the year 2020, the wealth of the main billionaires in our country grew by almost 30%. Meanwhile, in that same period of time, more than a million Spaniards fell below the poverty line as they began to suffer from severe material deprivation.
However, this abyss has not only occurred in Spain. Globally, so far in the pandemic, billionaires have experienced the largest annual increase in their fortunes since this type of data was recorded. Specifically, the 10 richest people in the world have doubled their fortune during these two years, while the income of the remaining 99% of humanity has depreciated.
Among the reasons, Oxfam explains, are practices such as the privatization of companies and public services, speculation on the stock market, the reduction of taxes for corporations and higher incomes, or abusive labor practices that result in the temporality, precariousness and violation of workers' rights.
The European Statistical Office also warns of the growth of poverty and inequality in the continent as a result of the economic crisis derived from the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the organization already reported that in Europe there were 18 million boys and girls living in poverty and at risk of social exclusion, and that number has reached 20 million in 2021. In the subsequent age ranges, the figures are not much more flattering. On the continent, 24% of those under 18 years of age are poor (31% in Spain) and the population up to 64 years of age at risk of social exclusion reaches 21% (27% in our country).
In its first point, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) propose as a goal "to end poverty in all its forms throughout the world", to prevent globalization and planetary progress from leaving behind large pockets of population. The United Nations (UN) has already warned that if the governments of developed countries do not initiate policies to alleviate poverty and combat inequality, in the year 2030 almost 200 million children will live in extreme poverty, and about 70 million will die from it.