Man affected by threat to cut off electricity believes Endesa should take on debt
“We should be able to live with dignity, with electricity and without fear,” says José Luis Jacas
“We should be able to live with dignity, with electricity and without fear,” says José Luis Jacas
“These are not new problems, they have been around for a longer period of time”, says criminology lecturer Steven Kemp
The Fundació Arrels (Arrels Foundation) – a Barcelona-based NGO dedicated to homeless people founded in 1987 – registered 892 persons sleeping on the streets of the Catalan capital on Wednesday night. More than 700 volunteers – in groups of three or four – combed the city divided up into 160 areas from midnight until 2 am. The initiative aimed at counting people sleeping on the streets: inside ATM lobbies, under bridges, on benches of public parks, in front of private entrances or nearby train stations. Barcelona's local Ombudsman service – an institution for the defence of rights and public liberties – also took part, through the presence of some of its staff among the volunteers. According to Maria Assumpció Vilà, Head of Barcelona's Ombudsman office, the reality certified by the Arrels Foundation is "absolutely unacceptable". "An emergency plan must be launched urgently", she stressed, as the Catalan capital cannot accept having 900 people without a place to sleep.
The number of Catalans with Spanish nationality living abroad and registered with consulates rose by 9.31% between 1 January 2014 and 1 January 2015, according to data from the Spanish Statistics Institute (INE), which is a legally independent institution run by the Spanish Government. In early 2014, there were 221,444 Catalans living in a foreign country, while a year later this figure had risen to 242,070, thus registering a 20,626 person increase. Regarding Spain as a whole, on the 1 January 2015, there were 2,183,043 citizens living abroad and registered with consulates. This represents a 6.1% growth on the figures from January 2014, when there were 124,995 less Spaniards living abroad.
In 72 municipalities with a high demand for housing, the Catalan Government and the affected town halls will be able to use a right of first refusal to buy flats and houses on sale that are now owned by financial entities as a result of home evictions carried out since April 2008. The measure will only be in place until 2021 in those 72 municipalities and the aim is to prevent investment funds from buying them solely for speculative purposes and not to rent them. The initiative comes after it was noticed that investment funds were buying a great number of empty flats from banks, who came to own them after the previous owners were unable to pay their mortgage during the years of economic crisis. The measure will be included in a decree that will enter into force immediately and is part of a wider plan to facilitate access to housing.
Joan Herrera, the leader of the Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist coalition ICV-EUiA, also held his own conference on Catalonia's political future and self-determination road map, after those of the Catalan President, the Spanish Prime Minister and three other political leaders. Despite supporting Catalans' right to vote on independence, Herrera rejected exclusively voting on independence, since after years of budget cuts and corruption scandals, citizens also have to vote on social issues and measures to clean up the democratic system. Herrera strongly criticised the austerity measures approved by the centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU and the People's Party (PP). The ICV-EUiA does not have an official position regarding independence and about half of its leadership and voters would support it, while the other half supports greater powers for the Catalan Government within a federal Spain.
Catalan supermarkets and charities are working together to fight against the 1.18 million tonnes of food wasted each year in Catalonia. With 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted each year worldwide, the issue of excess food is becoming increasingly important. Of the global figures, 89 million tonnes come from the EU, while 8 million come from Spain, making it the 7th highest in Europe. Of Catalonia’s share, the equivalent of 34.9 kg is wasted per person on an annual basis. One approach in reducing this figure is being undertaken by supermarkets, which are responsible for 16% of total excess food in Catalonia, equivalent to 41,600 tonnes of food a year. Approaches vary from locking bins to reducing prices, and relabeling food products. Moreover, Catalan charity Banc dels Aliments has been active in the campaign against wasting food, running a six-year long annual event of redistributing donated food.
Early on Friday morning, the "Gran Recapte" ("The Great Collection") - a campaign to collect food donations in order to redistribute it to people in need – began across Catalonia, and will be underway until late on Saturday evening. Organised by Catalonia’s main food bank, El Banc dels Aliments, it collects donations of non-perishable food products such as milk, flour, oil, beans and pasta from organisations and individuals, with the cooperation of many markets and supermarkets. With the help of 20,000 volunteers, this food will then be shared out among up to 250,000 people in the coming weeks. The new President of the Food Bank, Eduard Arruga, believes this year people are more aware of the campaign than ever. In Barcelona, it began at 9.30am and, in the neighbourhood Sants, attendance was already high.
The Constitutional Court has accepted the Spanish Government's appeal against the Catalan Executive' decree from December 2013 with which families in need are protected from their household electricity and gas being cut off by energy supply companies during winter months. The Catalan Government's measure aimed to fight the so-called 'energy poverty': people who cannot afford to pay for their energy bills because they do not get minimum income. The decree was not a cancellation of the bills but to allow those families to postpone the payment during the winter months. However, the Spanish Executive considered that the Catalan measure represented a "discrimination" against the citizens from other Autonomous Communities, who have to pay their energy bills on time. The appeal goes against Catalonia's political autonomy and is arbitrary. The Catalan Government stated it was "upset" by the ban and added that it will find an alternative way to help those families.
A sweeping majority of the Catalan Parliament has approved a new law recognising the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people and persecuting homophobia and transphobia. The new law includes fines for homophobic behaviour at the work place and positive discrimination measures, such as having to prove one’s innocence if accused of homophobia (a measure already in place for those accused of domestic violence against women). 80% of the Catalan Chamber has backed the new law and the conservative and Spanish nationalist People’s Party (PP), which runs the Spanish Government, was the only group who voted against the bill, which was filed by 4 left-wing opposition groups. The centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, which runs the Catalan Government, split its votes, as the largest Liberal party CDC completely backed the law and the smallest Christian-Democrat party UDC voted against specific articles, although it did not oppose the entire measure.
Like many major European cities, Barcelona is ageing fast. In the years ahead the city must grapple with many of the problems associated with an increasingly top heavy demographic: as the over-65 population burgeons, health and social services are stretched, the financing of pensions is challenged, and a growing number of frail and vulnerable people face competing over declining resources. Today’s elderly cohort constitutes a greater proportion of Barcelona’s population than ever before, and, perhaps most worryingly, face an increased likelihood of living alone. But all is not doom and gloom, as the city enjoys an active, dynamic and engaged elderly population, the health and social sector rises to meet the challenges, and the labour market benefits from what are known as the ‘super-grandmothers.’
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.
The Catalan Government has finally approved a decree protecting families in need from having their household electricity and gas cut off by energy supply companies during the winter months. The measure aims to fight the so-called ‘energy povert’: people who cannot afford to pay for their energy bills because they do not get minimum income. This way, the Catalan Government ensures they can continue having heating and using their cooking devices during the coldest period of the year. Energy companies will not be able to cut off supplies to these families between November and March. Besides, the Catalan Government has also approved a temporary budget extension for the coming weeks, since the People’s Party (PP) – which runs the Spanish Executive – has blocked the approval of the 2014 budget.