Spain’s response to Covid poverty was too weak, too late, report says | Spain

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Efforts by the Spanish government to deal with the economic turmoil triggered by the Covid pandemic were “too little, too late and too little”, according to a report which reveals that thousands of people are still dependent on emergency food aid and face even greater difficulties as prices soar. .

The Human Rights Watch study, which documents cases of parents skipping meals so their children can eat, says the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated weaknesses in Spain’s social security system. Too often, food banks, community groups and NGOs have had to step in and help people in need, especially those in informal employment and not eligible for state assistance.

According to the report, which comes as a seventh wave of Covid sweeps Spain, pandemic poverty has disproportionately affected families with children, the elderly dependent on state pensions, migrants and job seekers. asylum, and people working in hospitality, cleaning, care and construction. sectors.

It notes that data from Spain’s main food bank network shows a 48% increase in the amount of food distributed in 2020 compared to the previous year, leading to the highest levels of food aid provided since 2014. when the global financial crisis pushed up the country’s unemployment. rates above 25%.

“The economic storm that has accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the lives of low-income people in Spain, leaving households unable to feed themselves even before the current cost of living crisis,” said Kartik Raj, European researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Government efforts to supplement an inadequate social safety net have delivered too little, too late and too little, meaning thousands of people are still dependent on emergency food aid, and parents are skipping meals to so that their children can eat.”

People line up for food aid on May 16, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. Photography: Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The Spanish government has used a leave and Minimum Living Income (IMV) scheme with monthly payments of between €451 and €1,015 (around £380 and £850), but the report says the crisis has laid bare old and systemic failures.

“Despite efforts to provide support, the Spanish state has failed to protect people’s rights to food and an adequate standard of living during the pandemic,” he said. “This failure was exacerbated by a social security system whose coverage was uneven across regions and type of benefits, and a largely absent national social security and assistance system (beyond non-contributory pensions) before the pandemic”.

Many of those interviewed for the report in Madrid and Barcelona described the coping strategies they had adopted to survive the ravages of the pandemic.

“Sometimes I didn’t have any money so I had to ask friends for help and food,” said Ana María Ametller Hueto, 42, from Barcelona, ​​who lost her restaurant job. and did not receive vacation pay.

“I was hungry during the pandemic, but my daughter never did. You know, if you have a child, you can go two or three days without eating so that your child can eat. You will find all the excuses Everything we had – whether it was macaroni or whatever – was for her, I was content with a coffee or a glass of milk.

Among the report’s findings are recommendations that the Spanish government should review social security support rates, including unemployment benefits and age-related pensions, and speed up and streamline the process of helping people who need IMV support.

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It says the IMV program prevents or at least delays a return to the levels of poverty and inequality seen in Spain at the height of the financial crisis, but the system is “hampered by its own bureaucracy which has been overwhelmed by demand, heavy paperwork for applicants, and incorrect assumptions for eligibility calculation, among other issues”.

It calls on the regional governments of Madrid and Catalonia to temporarily remove all obstacles that prevent people from accessing emergency social assistance in times of crisis due to their immigration or residence status.

“The Spanish government’s measures to soften the contours of the financial shock that followed the public health emergency, however well-intentioned, have not stopped growing hunger,” Raj said. “Spain needs a coordinated and well-funded social protection system that ensures that people who need such support can live in dignity, that their rights are protected and that they are not left behind. account.”

The report’s findings echo those of Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who visited Spain in early 2020. Alston found that Spain remained torn apart by “deep and widespread poverty” and that its welfare system was “broken, underfunded, impossible to navigate and not reaching the people who need it most.

On Tuesday, Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced temporary taxes on banks and energy companies designed to bring in 7 billion euros over two years, and unveiled a series of measures designed to help people cope with the inflation and the cost of living crisis.

“I would like the Spanish people to know that I am fully aware of the daily difficulties that most people face,” he said. “I know that the salaries cover less and less and that it is difficult to arrive at the end of the month.”

In May, the government approved a cap on gas prices to reduce electricity bills for households, businesses and industry.

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