Inequalities in Spain: Spanish social protection system is failing, says UN expert | Society

Spain is failing to tackle inequality and some policies keep people in poverty on purpose. This is according to Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

After spending 12 days in Spain, Alston gave a press conference on Friday that described a country where many people have been left behind by the post-crisis recovery and where the welfare system “is broken”.

Alston, 70, an independent expert who does not receive a salary from the UN, has traveled to six Spanish regions. He said he had seen people living in “garbage dumps” and in some of the worst conditions he had ever seen in his travels.

The word I’ve heard the most in the past two weeks is “abandoned”

Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

This expert described “deep and widespread poverty and high unemployment, a housing crisis of staggering proportions, a completely inadequate social welfare system that leaves large numbers of people in poverty on purpose, a segregated education system and more moreover anachronistic, a tax system that provides far more benefits for the rich than for the poor, and an entrenched bureaucratic mentality in many parts of government that values ​​formalistic procedures at the expense of people’s well-being.

Its preliminary report, which is not binding, points out that 26.1% of the population, of which 29.5% are children, are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and that the unemployment rate is 13, 7%, more than double the EU average.

“The word I’ve heard most often in the past two weeks is ‘abandoned,'” said Alston, who visited parts of Madrid, Galicia, Andalusia, Extremadura, Catalonia and the Pays Basque. Asked which cases struck him the most, the expert mentioned a Roma woman who lived in a landfill with her children, fruit pickers in the southern province of Huelva who ‘live like animals’ without electricity or sanitation no running water, and also “an ordinary family who have been evicted” and who are now on the streets after a long battle to keep their house.

The message of the new government is welcome, but its actions must live up to this rhetoric

Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

In the end, “people experiencing poverty have been largely left behind by policy makers”. Alston described a system designed “by design” to leave people in poverty, but he also expressed hope that the new coalition government in Spain will be able to introduce reforms to address these failures.

“The silver lining is that the new coalition government is firmly committed to achieving social justice, but the challenges are great,” he said. “With its embrace of social rights and tax justice, and the priority given to the most vulnerable, the new government’s message is welcome, but its actions must match this rhetoric.”

Speaking to EL PAÍS after the press conference, Alston said he believed many of the policies he recommends, including tax, housing and labor market reforms, “could be passed very quickly”. .

He also praised Spain’s public health system, “which really works and is close to universality. And the pension system keeps many old people out of poverty. Not everything is negative. But I’m here to focus on what needs to be done.

English version by Susana Urra.

Joel C. Hicks