The real face of austerity in Spain | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.09.2012
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The real face of austerity in Spain

As the recession in Spain deepens, the severity of the Spanish predicament is perhaps most palpable among the country's struggling families. DW met with three of them at a squatter building in Seville.

In Seville, where the unemployment rate is hovering above 30 percent, 36 homeless families have been squatting in an abandoned building for the past three months. The property was vacated when the construction company that was working on the building went bankrupt.

On the grounds of "Tenement Utopia," as the squatters have christened the property, Mercedes, 54, and her daughter, 19, and infant granddaughter face the hot summer temperatures without running water. They live off the charity of their neighbors who provide large containers of water and food and supplies for the seven-month-old baby girl. With little more than air beds and a few boxes, Mercedes and her family are forced to struggle through their days and nights. She declined to tell DW her last name out of fear of repercussions for talking to the media about her situation.

Helpless against the crisis

These families all share a pressing problem, one felt by many Spaniards at the moment, and the government's reduction of social benefits has done nothing but intensify the predicament. The economic situation in Spain is at best precarious; in particular, ever since Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's recent move to cut public spending by 6.5 billion euros.

Wohnhausbesetzung Seville

Mercedes says the state has left her family in the lurch

The "adjustment," as it's been termed, includes a rise in sales tax from 18 to 21 percent and a 15 percent reduction of compensation for family members caring for dependent persons.

"I have no unemployment benefits or compensation; I just receive 280 euros for my little granddaughter, since my daughter is a single mother and she doesn’t have a job either," Mercedes told DW. Before the crisis she was a cook, and she also worked with the city’s health department.

But after the last cuts to public expenditures, her job contract was canceled last year and she wasn’t able to find other work: "So all of a sudden we were on the street, with just a suitcase, our photos, memories and my daughter - who at that time was still pregnant."

'Zero euros per month'

Wohnhausbesetzung Seville

Fran and Inma moved into Tenement Utopia after they lost their jobs

Fran and Inma, who are in their mid-thirties and also live in the squatter building, have a similar tale to tell. Until recently, Fran had been working in an insurance agency as a salesman, earning around 300 euros per month. With three little children, this wasn't enough to rent a house for the whole family, so they had to live separately. Inma moved in with her parents with the three kids, and Fran lived on his own. It went on like this for two years, until Fran heard about Tenement: Utopia, and they decided to squat in one of the vacant apartments.

"We live on nothing, zero euros per month. I don't receive unemployment benefits because I wasn’t registered with social security while I was working. All we can count on now is the support of my in-laws and parents," Fran told DW. Like Mercedes, Fran and Irma were unwilling to reveal their full names.

With unemployment currently at 24 percent, around one in five Spanish households are at a risk of such poverty and social exclusion - figures surpassed in Europe only by Romania and Latvia.

'They want to take our children'

Vanesa, another squatter in her mid-thirties, is going through a very critical situation. One of her three children has a severe disability, one that requires daily treatment. She should be receiving compensation for her special needs; however, she has been informed by the local council that such benefits have been frozen after the last round of cuts.

"There is no money in the public budget, they tell me. So I do not know when we could start receiving it," laments Vanesa.

Wohnhausbesetzung Seville

The squatters say they'll stay here until they're forced to leave

She and her husband haven't received any income since the cleaning company they both worked for went bankrupt. They are still owed 6 months pay and a severance package, which every person who is laid off in Spain is entitled to. The Wages Guarantee Fund has taken over the case, but due to the crisis the agency has been completely overwhelmed.

"We have run out of unemployment benefits. We now depend on the support of nuns, and my parents. My husband earns a little by looking for scraps, but it is practically nothing. And to top it all off, social services have threatened to take our children away from us," says Vanesa, visibly moved.

As Spanish families suffer in this climate of austerity, the country's major unions have staged a string of social protests to express their opposition to Rajoy's cuts. The anti-government action will culminate in a march through the capital in mid-September that will call for an "end to injustice," which the opposition claims has brought about a dismantling of the Spanish welfare state.

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