MADRID — Six years after the property bubble in Spain burst — eliminating millions of jobs — Spain is experiencing a sharp rise in child poverty as austerity measures and high unemployment rates begin to take their toll.
The number of children at risk of living in poverty in Spain has jumped from 500,000 in 2007 before the start of the worldwide economic crisis to 2.5 million, according to a study by Spanish children’s charity Educo.
“Teachers say more children are coming to class without having showered because the water has been turned off at home due to unpaid bills,” said the director of the San Pedro and San Felices school in Burgos, Father Modesto Diez. “They lack electricity and water at home, they live in deficient housing, their basic needs are not met. They come to class badly dressed and without eating properly.”
A nationwide youth hotline run by the ANAR Foundation reported a rise in the number of calls it received last year from children suffering physical or psychological abuse at home.
“We believe one of the reasons for this increase in abuse is unemployment and the economic difficulties faced by families, which heightens tensions and increases aggression in families,” said Benjamin Ballesteros, the group’s program director.
Many parents have pulled their children out of the school’s canteen service, which provides a hot lunch every day for a monthly fee of 102 euros.
“Spain’s unemployment rate, combined with a drop in salaries and sharp government spending cuts to social programs has led to a dramatic reversal in living standards,” said Diez. “It’s like in the 50s and 60s, when families had to make do with the income that they had. They worked long hours for low pay.”
A new report by Caritas stated that “cuts to public services disproportionately affect lower-income groups.” The child poverty rate in countries in the European Union has increased from under 20 percent to more than 22 percent in the last three years. Spain’s child poverty rate is 29.9 percent, following only Romania.
“Austerity measures have failed to solve problems and create growth. The European project and cohesion in our societies is at stake. Families are exhausted. They can not continue paying,” said Jorge Nuño Mayer, the general secretary to Caritas. “A second wave of poverty is expected… the negative impact can last for decades.”
Mayer added that the economy of Spain could take 20 years to return to the way it was before the economic crisis.
The Spanish branch of Caritas stated that the number of households living in extreme poverty in Spain rose from 900,000 in 2007 before the economic crisis hit to 1.5 million in the middle of 2013 and the number of individuals living in extreme poverty almost doubled from 2.8 million in the middle of 2007 to 5.1 million in the middle of 2013.
The organization stated in a new report that the rise was unprecedented and that “there is a great risk that the progressive increase in inequality” will only grow higher in the long term.
– Monica Newell