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Chronic poverty

The needy resorting to Cáritas are three times more numerous and increasingly poor

The seventh Social Reality Observatory report, drawn up by the humanitarian organization Cáritas, shows the harshest aspect of the crisis: the situation of those who do not have enough for mere subsistence. The years since 2007 have seen a threefold multiplication in the number of people approaching this charity organization for help. This year the number of those receiving assistance has surpassed the figure of one million, beneficiaries of aid from Cáritas to the tune of 33 million euros. The worst aspect of this picture is that subsistence poverty is not only increasing in numbers — since 2007 the population affected has gone from 19 to 21.8 percent — but is becoming harsher. The poor are now much more poor.

Many of those who come to Cáritas have used up all the savings they had. Neither do they possess a “mattress” in the form of a family to cushion their fall, and nor do they get sufficient help from social services. The majority of these people are long-term unemployed who can no longer find means of support even in the under-the-counter economy. Young couples with small children and single-parent families are the most vulnerable.

This is the bitterest face of the crisis. The problem is that while poverty grows and becomes chronic, the system of social assistance which ought to be coping with it keeps shrinking.

The “progressive withdrawal,” in the words of Cáritas, of the public social service network is leaving ever larger numbers of people without any shelter at all. And besides, with the cutbacks, Spain’s welfare system is becoming less efficient. To have a first appointment with the evaluation services, one must now wait an average of 24 days; and to receive the first subsidy, two months more. These delays have grave consequences. It must be taken into account that a growing proportion of these applications are for medical aid for immigrants without papers, whose right to automatic medical assistance has recently been denied.

Deadly delays

While the already meager budget for social rehabilitation shrinks further, such subsidies as are granted arrive after longer and longer delays. If before the crisis the average delay was about three months, it is now more like six. In such a situation, the public administration ought to concern itself with the possibility that such delays will further aggravate the situation of those who have slipped down into the depths of misery. Just when there is the most need for a good system of social help, the system grows more precarious, more foot-dragging and more confused.

When impoverished existence on the margins of society becomes chronic, as is now happening to many people, it becomes a road of no return, even when the general economic situation improves. It is incumbent on all levels of the administration to do everything possible to prevent this from happening.