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How close is Catalonia to eradicating poverty?

With only 10 years left to meet the UN's sustainable development goals, poverty has increased rather than decreased

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02 January 2020 12:00 PM

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Cristina Tomàs White|Barcelona

As we head into the 2020s, the world only has 10 years left to meet the UN's 17 sustainable development goals as part of the 2030 Agenda. The first one of these is no poverty, but how exactly is Catalonia doing in this department?

At-risk-of-poverty rate after social transfers up

At first glance, we can see that the at-risk-of-poverty rate after social transfers has increased in the past decade, as has been the case across the European Union, so we spoke to an expert in poverty from the Federation of Catalan Organizations dealing with social issues, ECAS, to get a better idea of what has been happening.

According to Ferran Busquets, ECAS' poverty spokesperson, this has very much to do with the 2008 financial crisis and its long-lasting effects.

"In the past years, the economic crisis we suffered made it so there was a loss of social rights," Busquets argues.

"There were significant spending cuts that we have not made up for [now that the crisis is officially over]. When there are cuts, there is no budget, and when there’s no social spending, poverty increases."

A comprehensive understanding of poverty

It is also important to understand that the at-risk-of-poverty poverty rate after social transfers does not provide a global picture of the phenomenon either as other factors such as employment, housing, education and access to medical care should also be considered. 

  • "When we say there is an [at-risk-of] poverty rate of 21%, it's not entirely representative because there are probably a lot of poor people who do not fit the statistical definition."

    Ferran Busquets · ECAS poverty spokesperson

This means, for instance, that someone could be earning barely over the poverty line - €915 net/month in Catalonia - and not be considered to be at-risk. Or a full-time worker making minimum wage, which in Spain was only increased to €900 net/month earlier this year, would still be poor.   

Other figures help illustrate this more starkly. If we look at housing, for example, we'd see that the latest Catalan housing agency report on homelessness, from 2014, puts the number of people living on the street all throughout Catalonia at 5,433. While not included in that figure, that year there were another 48,454 people who, while not living rough, still experienced poor housing conditions. 

When we look at the Catalan capital, where the cost of renting an apartment increased 21% between 2011 and 2018, we can see that the trend in homelessness is an upward one. According to NGO Arrels, the number of people living on the street in Barcelona has increased by 83% over the past 11 years. 

Future prospects

As for whether Catalonia will be able to meet the goal of eradicating poverty in the next 10 years, Busquets does not view the outcome favorably. 

"The first 2030 goal to eradicate poverty will not be achieved for a very simple reason. Right now we are at a point where every move and every step forward is not done bravely, but thinking of the next elections," says Busquets of policy-makers. 

Because of this, Busquets and members of other socially-minded organizations argue that to truly tackle the problem of poverty in Catalonia, social issues should be prioritized while also recognizing that they require long-term structural solutions beyond 4-year political terms.

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  • A man places a rose beside Arrels' makeshift memorial for the 55 homeless people who died in Barcelona in 2019 (by Júlia Catarineu)

  • A man places a rose beside Arrels' makeshift memorial for the 55 homeless people who died in Barcelona in 2019 (by Júlia Catarineu)

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