AUSTERITY SPAIN

Welfare services swamped as recession cuts deeper into funding

Eight million Spaniards turned to public services for assistance in covering basic needs in 2010

Spain's welfare services are working overtime to help growing numbers of people hit by the ongoing economic crisis. Health Ministry figures from 2010, to which this newspaper has had access, show that over eight million people turned to welfare centers for help to cover basic needs like buying food or paying the water bill, a 19.5-percent increase from the previous year.

Although more recent figures are not available, at this rate of growth and in the opinion of several welfare workers the number of people who sought help this year is likely to be higher.

"In my 25 years as a welfare worker I had never seen anything like it," said María José Arredondas, who works in a rural area in Lugo. "This year is noticeably worse than last. Public social services were never as overflowing as they are now, and with the cuts, there are no resources. This item should not be cut; on the contrary, it should be increased."

But far from doing so, the latest government budget slashes basic welfare services by 40 percent. Taking the two last budgets into account, the fall has been 65.4 percent: where there were once 86 million euros, there are now only around 30 million allocated.

The average users of welfare services are seniors (one out of every three), people with disabilities (10 percent) and families with children (26 percent), but there are also drug addicts, single parents, ex-convicts and ethnic minorities. In recent times, people who lived on modest means have also had to turn to their local welfare center.

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