Pain in Spain

The Catholic aid group Caritas Spain urged the Spanish government to consider the “sinister concrete implications” of the country’s economic crisis after a sharp increase in the number of people seeking aid. An affiliate of the church’s global relief and development agency, Caritas Internationalis, Caritas Spain said that Spanish society has “followed a precarious integration model, which has gradually deteriorated and failed, reducing the protective capacity of the public system.”

Caritas reported: “This crisis does not only concern concepts of aid management. It also has sinister concrete implications in the loss of jobs, fall in household earnings and weakening in social support.” The Caritas Spain analysis reviewed the effects of the austerity measures put in place by Spain since the nation became engulfed by Europe’s sovereign debt crisis. Released on Sept. 27, the report tracked growing “poverty, inequality and unfairness” as a major concern, despite the agency’s efforts to provide assistance through Catholic parishes. The number of people in Spain receiving aid from the charity has tripled in the past four years, topping one million people in 2011.

“If poverty was not reduced when there was economic growth in 1994-2007 and if social protection was not improved as a share of national growth, it is difficult to imagine that poverty and inequality will be reduced now at a time of crisis,” the agency said.

The report was published as the center-right government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced a new wave of spending cuts and tax increases in its 2013 budget in a bid to cut Spain’s deficit and avoid a bailout by the European Union. The measures were met with angry street protests in Madrid and other cities, as well as calls for secession by the country’s wealthy northwest Catalonia region.

A spokesperson for Caritas Spain, Ana Girao, said on Sept. 28 that poverty in Spain showed signs of evolving from an acute problem into a long-term one. Those struggling the most during the widespread downturn have been the unemployed, currently 25 percent of the Spanish workforce, as well as immigrants, single mothers and young couples with children, she said.

Ms. Girao expressed gratitude for the work of the Spanish Catholic Church, which traditionally claims the loyalty of 82 percent of Spain’s 40 million inhabitants, which supplemented the work of her agency in individual dioceses by offering money, food and clothing to the growing ranks of the poor. “We are the Catholic Church. So what Caritas does for the needy is also what the church does,” Girao said.

“Although the media has shown interest in our report, we’re not expecting reactions from the politicians,” she added. “But they must be made aware that the situation is becoming more chronic and the needs ever greater.”

The report said Caritas disburses about $43 million in aid annually. “We also listen to people who come to our parish centers and try to address not just economic needs, but also to offer warmth,” the charity said.

“Actions which address these needs are valuable, since they are significant and transformative for the lives of individuals, as well as for relationships in society.”

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