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Poverty scares us, but inequality outrages us

By Edmundo Fayanas Escuer

Spanish Caritas has just published a new report (FOESSA) with data for 2012. The outlook is bleak and should mark a turning point for us all to do something to end this social disaster caused by these neoliberal policies imposed by the European Union and which here in Spain are executed blindly and with fervour and fury by the Popular Party (PP), and previously by the Socialists (PSOE).

A few months ago, the New York Times ran a photo essay on the social reality of the crisis in Spain. Immediately the Spanish press and particularly the right-wing media, Abc, la Razón, el Mundo, attacked this report, accusing it of an inaccurate portrayal of reality.

However, these same newspapers, cheer on spending cuts to welfare, education, health, pensions and support for the economy… and in this list we must include El Pais. Then they refuse to recognize the social consequences that this causes. What can we say about PP, PSOE and [Catalan nationalist] CiU politicians? They are totally removed from reality, steeped in corruption, living in their cliques and do not understand nor want to see the consequences of their policies on people. And then they call on us to vote for them, poor fools!

What does the FOESSA 2013 report say?

It talks of poverty that has become widespread, intense and is becoming chronic in our society. This is leading us to a large and widening social inequality that reveals a totally fractured society.

So to the data:

Severe poverty, defined as individuals who have less than €3,650 per year, affected 4% of the Spanish population in 2008; by late 2012 this had risen to 6.4%, ie about three million Spanish. Some economists estimate that these figures will reach 7.5% at the end of 2013, meaning 750,000 more Spanish will find themselves in this situation.

As José Manuel Ramírez, of the Association of Directors of Social Services, says: “Extreme poverty is the precursor to social exclusion, and this represents a huge human cost and resources.”

Relative poverty – those who live on an income of less than €7,300 per year, or for example a couple with two children who have an income of less than 15,330 per year – affected 9.6% of the population in 2008. Data from 2012 shows a quantum leap to 21.8% and represents more than ten million people. But data for the end of 2013 will show another very important leap; as a result of spending cuts on welfare and other socially sensitive areas, rising unemployment levels and labour reforms it will reach 23%, forcing eleven million people into this kind of poverty.

Is this social situation sustainable? How long will we put up with these policies and their consequences?

The report shows a fall of pro-capita Spanish income of 18,500 euros a year, a return to 2001 levels, that is, a, 11 year decline, and we continue to see a rapid fall in income as a result of the policies of the Popular Party. By the end of this year, Spaniards will be on a per capita income of €17,000 per year.

These figures are the result of the decline in household income by 4% and a rise in inflation (Consumer Price Index) of 10%. As Carlos Susías of the Network Against Poverty and Social Exclusion in Spain says: ‘Developments of recent years are a genuine barbarity.’

Are we all suffer ing equally?

The answer is NO, and this makes us indignant. Spain is a tremendously unequal socially, on par with Bulgaria and Romania as the most unequal country in the European Union, excepting Portugal and Greece. For this situation we can thank the policies developed by the PP-PSOE tandem with their much vaunted tax cuts – lowing taxes on the rich and maintaining or increasing them on the workforce (Spain is a tax haven for the rich and still our rich will not pay).

In this sense, the data in the Caritas report are illuminating. The average income of the richest people in the country are seven times the average income of those on the lowest incomes. And since the beginning of the crisis this gap has increased by 30%.

Inequality in the distribution of income has been increasing since 2006, with a decrease of 5% in real terms each year in the poorest households, while income growth in the richest households in recent years has been 30%.

What effects do the Popular Party’s policies cause?

Job losses and wage moderation have been crucial in reducing the level of household income in the country.

Changes in social benefits, by reducing the amounts of such contributory unemployment benefits and tightening eligibility requirements to receive these benefits, deepen social inequalities.

Increasing taxes like income tax and VAT, making much of the country much poorer

Social services have decreased dramatically and the austerity policies have made the poor much more vulnerable. Cuts in public services represent a definitive rupture for the most disadvantaged in society. Austerity violates social rights and abandon the poorest.

As Sebastian Mora, Secretary General of Caritas Spain, says: “If it is true that poverty and exclusion wounds the heart, inequality is an ethical and political scandal.” And he goes on to say: ‘the saturation and extension of poverty leads to a lack of visibility of poverty and exclusion. Severe poverty has increased significantly and this tells us that people have gone beyond the limits of dignity.”

What can we do?

Go outside into the street so they can see and hear that we are not satisfied with what is happening in the country and what politicians are doing. Throw out this gang of moral idiots who govern us and make a more just and fraternal society. Together we can do it.

La Nueva Tribuna 26.3.2013

Edmundo Fayanas Escuer is an historian

Translation/edit by Revolting Europe

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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