Child poverty grows in Spain

Child poverty grows in Spain


Spain is facing rising levels of child poverty as its economic recovery fails to bridge a growing gulf between rich and poor, storing up problems for an already-strained social security system.

While the country has emerged from recession and become one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, more than one in three children - or 2.6 million - are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, EU figures show.

. Murcia, Spain. Reuters/Jon Nazca

Spanish childhood educator Adela Hernandez, 26, touches the head of a child as he attends a charitable programme near Murcia that gives children academic and psychological help to improve their opportunities in life.

High levels of long-term unemployment coupled with spending cuts to healthcare and education have pushed more families and young children below the breadline even as the economy picks up.

. Murcia, Spain. Reuters/Jon Nazca

Children pose for a photo with masks they made as homework as part of the programme run by Caritas, a Catholic charity.

Inequality is set to be a key issue in a December election. The ruling centre-right People's Party is running a campaign focusing on how Spain pulled back from the brink of an international bail-out to become the euro zone poster child for careful debt management through austerity measures.

. Murcia, Spain. Reuters/Jon Nazca
Educator Hernandez smiles as she holds up a child’s homework.

The opposition Socialists and leftist newcomer Podemos however have seized on growing rates of poverty as a sign that the economic rebound has failed to reach many households.

In the southern region of Murcia, which has one of the highest poverty rates in Spain, divorced mother Victoria Belmonte has spent years looking for work from factories to supermarkets.

. Murcia, Spain. Reuters/Jon Nazca
A girl looks out at a street through a window while attending the programme.

Since her state benefit dried up in June, the 42-year-old former beautician has relied on charity handouts and her own mother's pension to feed and clothe her four children.

"My income at the moment is zero euros," she said in a church-owned building in Puente Tocinos, a working-class suburb of the city of Murcia, where volunteers were helping children with their homework.

. Murcia, Spain. Reuters/Jon Nazca

The growing number of impoverished children heaps more pressure on a social security system struggling with one of the fastest-ageing populations in the world.

Children trapped in poverty and denied opportunities could end up on benefits instead of turning into the tax-paying workers that the system desperately needs, say campaigners and economists.

. Murcia, Spain. Reuters/Jon Nazca

"They will be adults stunted in reaching their potential," said Andres Conde, head of Save the Children in Spain. “They will probably be adults dependent on social security.”

The proportion of children under 16 classed as at risk of poverty or social exclusion in Spain reached 35.4 percent last year, the highest in the euro zone bar Greece where riots and strikes against austerity measures recently have revived memories of the height of the euro zone debt crisis.

The figure, which is 10 percentage points above the euro zone average, has risen sharply from 31.9 percent in 2013, when the economy emerged from over five years of downturn.

A key cause of child poverty is the high number of people jobless for more than two years - which stands at nine times the level seen in 2008 in a country where the job seekers' welfare benefit ends after around 18 months.

Murcia, known for its golf resorts, was gripped by construction fever during the boom years and the 2008 property crash left many without work or qualifications, said Victor Martinez, the regional People's Party spokesman.

"The recovery is real, our country is coming out of crisis. But that recovery is taking a long time to reach individuals and firms."
Victor Martinez

In Puente Tocinos, Catholic charity Caritas has set up one of many programmes around the country supporting children with academic and psychological help in the hope of improving their chances in life.

Around 35 children aged six to 12 gathered around tables to finish their homework before taking a snack of a tuna roll and fruit juice into the square outside for a break.

Priest Jose Antonio Cano, who oversees the programme, said most were children from ordinary families that had been hit hard by the recession.

"We realised that if we didn't help them with their education, the cycle would just repeat itself."

. Murcia, Spain. Reuters/Jon Nazca