Opposition parties ask the Catalan Government for further efforts to fight poverty
The Catalan Parliament held on Wednesday a monographic session on poverty, which has increased over the past few years, spurred by the financial crisis. According to a report published by the Red Cross this week, there are 200,000 families in Catalonia which live below the poverty line and since the crisis started, 88 Catalans a day have crossed such a line. With a population of some 7.5 million and a GDP per capita of around €28,000 (similar to the UK's) Catalonia posts a 22.3% unemployment rate and a 26.4% child poverty rate. Opposition parties asked for greater efforts and further measures to fight the poverty increase. The Catalan Government emphasised budget figures and detailed several actions in different areas to show they are tackling the issue. In this vein, the Executive criticised that child poverty stood at 22% in 2006, in prosperity years. Furthermore, they complained about the limited fiscal powers on taxation and public deficit, which seriously reduce spending possibilities.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Catalan Parliament held on Wednesday a monographic session on poverty, which has increased over the past few years, spurred by the financial crisis. According to a report published by the Red Cross this week, there are 200,000 families in Catalonia which live below the poverty line and, each day, 88 Catalans have crossed such a line since the crisis started. With a population of some 7.5 million and a GDP per capita of around €28,000 (similar to the UK's) Catalonia posts a 22.3% unemployment rate and a 26.4% child poverty rate. Opposition parties asked for greater efforts and further measures to be implemented to fight the poverty increase. The Catalan Government emphasised budget figures and detailed several actions in different areas to show they are tackling the issue. In this vein, the Executive criticised that child poverty stood at 22% in 2006, in prosperity years, while the previous Cabinets – at Spanish and Catalan level – did not do enough to fight this dramatic phenomenon. Furthermore, they complained about the limited fiscal powers on taxation and public deficit imposed by the Spanish Government, which seriously reduce spending possibilities. The President of the Catalan Government stated that the Executive he chairs "holds responsibilities" on social and employment policies, "but it goes naked when it comes to tools".
According to a report issued by the Catalan Ombudsman in August 2013, the amount of Catalan households that cannot afford meat or fish at least once every two days has increased six fold in three years, from 2008 to 2011. Severe poverty, which roughly affects 10% of Catalan children (around 130,000), has also risen in recent years. Furthermore, Catalan households suffering from material deprivation have more than tripled between 2008 and 2011. These are some of the figures that justify why the Catalan Parliament devoted an entire session to exclusively debate on poverty and the increase of inequalities since the start of the economic crisis.
The Catalan Government acknowledges "the striking situation"
The Catalan President stated that the current situation is "extremely striking" for many people. "We will not hide nor we will look aside", Mas stated while acknowledging the dramatic situation that many families and people are confronted to in Catalonia. However, the Catalan President also wanted to stress that the poverty rate stood at 19% in the years of maximum economic prosperity. Currently, after more than 6 years of economic crisis, the poverty rate has reached 20%, according to him. Furthermore, Mas pointed out that in 2006, before the financial crisis, child poverty was set around 22% while it now stands at 26.4%. The current situation is "an outrage", but the figures from 2006 are "a great outrage" since public finances were not under the severe constrain imposed by years of economic crisis. "During the expansion years of public budgets, a large part of the money was spent on stones, facilities and infrastructure, and not in assisting people", he stated.
Catalan Government details current budget figures and actions
In this vein, Mas emphasised that social policies are the Catalan Government's top priority. He underlined that the weight of healthcare, education and social policies combined within the budget has reached a maximum of 71% in 2014, much larger than three or four years ago. However, he also wanted to stress that the Catalan Executive's spending has been reduced by 20%, a reduction that has been imposed by the Spanish Government, he emphasised. On top of this, financial interest rates for loans have dramatically increased compared to three years ago. Therefore, the total amount for social policies is lower than it was in 2010. Nonetheless, Mas insisted that non-social budget items have suffered much higher budget cuts
Furthermore, Catalan Ministers have detailed some of the main agendas in place. The Education Minister, Irene Rigau, emphasised the importance of education to reduce poverty and insisted that despite the spending reduction, the Catalan School system continues to work well and to attend to the population demands. In addition, she said that this year, grants for school canteens have increased and she criticised the old system for allocating such grants. The Health Minister, Boi Ruiz, insisted that the 10 health indicators which could show a poverty increase have not changed over the past years, which means that illnesses related to poverty have not increased.
The Business and Employment Minister, Felip Puig announced that he will prioritise the policies fighting long-term unemployment. In addition, measures have been adopted to fight energy poverty, which affects households that cannot pay their electricity or gas bills. The Territory and Sustainability Minister, Santi Vila – who is in charge of housing, insisted that the department he chairs is preparing a tax on empty flats, aiming to reduce rent prices. In addition, measures have also been implemented to reduce the number of house evictions. Finally, the Welfare and Family Minister, Neus Munté – in charge of social affairs, stressed that the Government has prioritised direct assistance to people in need, despite the overall spending reduction. In addition, she said that NGOs and social care organisation are "allies" and she rejected that the Government is "delegating its responsibilities" to them.
Opposition parties demand greater efforts
The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC), which is the Parliament's second-largest group, sharing a parliamentary stability agreement with the government Centre-Right Catalan Nationalist Coalition (CiU), asked for implementing further measures to fight poverty. The ERC proposed issuing a decree against energy poverty that should protect households in need during the entire year and not only during the winter months. In addition, they insisted in the need to "leave Spain"; "we do not want to continue in the hands of those who are plundering 8% of our GDP to carry out anti-social policies and work for [the interest of a few] extractive elites".
The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) – which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) – accused the Catalan President of "ignoring" poverty and social inequalities. The PSC stated that the current Cabinet has "substituted a model based on public guarantees for another one based on charity". The Socialists asked the CiU and the Executive "to leave the office", go on the streets and work for "a large agreement" and "an action plan" against child poverty.
The Conservative People's Party (PP) – which runs the Spanish Government – accused the Catalan Executive of "triply lying" on poverty. According to the PP, the Catalan Government firstly denies the poverty problem, secondly they say they are lacking powers to tackle it and thirdly they say they do not have enough resources. The PP regretted that Artur Mas "prioritised the Catalan Way towards Independence over the social way".
The Catalan Green Socialist and Post-Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) proposed to change the 2014 budget to prioritise the fight against poverty through redistributive policies. For this reason, they will propose the creation of a transversal working group to study how the budget should be changed and present its conclusions within the next two months. The group would firstly hear the requests from NGOs and social care organisations. In addition, they stated that the current poverty levels are "unacceptable" and they insisted they are "avoidable".
The populist and anti-Catalan nationalism party Ciutadans (C's) asked Artur Mas not to run away from his responsibilities because the Catalan Government "manages the main powers" regarding Welfare policies. In this vein he asked not to blame the Spanish Executive and face its responsibilities on the current high poverty levels. The C's accused Mas of "building a Catalan state with one hand" and "destroying the Welfare State with the other".
Finally, the radical left-wing and independence party CUP demanded "a change of [economic] model" in order to "prioritise the attention to people". The CUP asked for actions to limit the power of "the markets". In this vein they asked the Catalan Government to reject paying the interest rates without previous audits and authorised delays. In addition, they accused the CiU, the PP and the PSC – which chaired the Catalan Executive between 2003 and 2010 – of being "profoundly cynical" during the parliamentary debate since they are the ones responsible for the current situation.