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More inequality; a chronic problem

The increase in poverty resulting from the prolonged crisis may condition Spain’s future

Not only does Spain have more and more poor people; these people have less and less and are increasingly lacking in even the most basic social protection. Several documents released in recent weeks, including the Foessa report by the leading NGO Cáritas, warn of the consequences that the impoverishment of ever larger sectors of the population will have on the country's future.

After five years of persistent economic crisis, the end of which is not yet in sight, the average annual income of Spaniards, which in 2012 stood at 18,500 euros, has fallen sharply, reducing purchasing power to the levels of 2001.

Unemployment, wage reductions and cutbacks in public services and subsidies have brought about a substantial regression in average income, and a collapse at the lower income levels. Added to this is an increase in prices of more than 10 percent since 2007, which hits the poor proportionally harder. Eleven million Spanish people are now under the threshold of poverty (income below 60 percent of the national average); three million live in conditions of extreme poverty (less than 3,650 euros per year); and the number of households in which every member is out of work has risen to 1.8 million.

Most serious of all is the fact that, together with this impoverishment, an increase in social inequality is taking place. But the widening of the social breach is not just the result of economic recession; it is the product of the neoliberal economic policies that came into vogue beginning in the 1980s. Between 1995 and 2007, in the years of the real estate bubble and of easy credit, inequalities failed to diminish in Spain. On the contrary, they persisted and grew, and are now being aggravated by the crisis in an even more alarming manner. Since 2007 the gap between the highest-income 20 percent of the population and the 20 percent of lowest income has increased by 30 percent.

During recent decades Spaniards have witnessed the quantum leap in quality of life and social progress that took place from one generation to another. Not only did general prosperity increase; inequalities also diminished. But the social elevator stopped halfway through the 1970s, and many Spaniards now view the future with misgiving, because they fear that their children are not only going to have a lower standard of living, but are also likely to enjoy less social protection against illness and other forms of misfortune.

The increasingly urgent problem that now faces us is the need for the implementation of active policies aimed at preventing poverty from becoming chronic. The government's stubborn pursuance of austerity policies, in disregard of the social effects these will have in the long term, is really suicidal, because it not only compromises present well-being, but the possibilities of progress for future generations. Societies with high levels of inequality are not only more discontented and have a lower index of development; they also face greater difficulties in growing.

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