Pandemic raises to 11 million people at risk of social exclusion in Spain

The socio-economic crisis caused by the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic has added 2.5 million more people to the risk of social exclusion in Spain. The crisis is hitting women, young people and migrants the hardest.

Maria José Atienza-January 18, 2022-Reading time: 6 minutes
foessa 2022

Natalia PeiroGeneral Secretary of Cáritas Española and Executive Director of FOESSA, and Raul FloresThe coordinator of the Caritas Research Team and technical secretary of FOESSA, presented "Evolution of social cohesion and consequences of covid-19 in Spain", a very extensive and documented study on the crisis caused by the pandemic.

The research -carried out by a team of more than 30 researchers from more than ten universities and social research entities- was coordinated by professors Luis Ayala Cañón, Miguel Laparra Navarro and Gregorio Rodríguez Cabrero.

As Natalia Peiro pointed out, the pandemic "has further deepened the inequality gap that has been dragging on since the 2008 crisis, leading more than 6 million people to a situation of severe risk of exclusion in Spain. The great victims of Covid-19 are precisely the most fragile and disadvantaged individuals and families, who have not been reached by the public responses of the so-called social shield". In this regard, the report reveals that the difference between the population with the highest and lowest incomes has increased by more than 25 percent, a figure higher than the increase during the 2008 crisis.

In 2020, Caritas served 1.5 million people, 366,000 more than in 2019.

Peiro stressed that the presentation of this report shows that we have spent "decades generating, sustaining and naturalizing the suffering of situations of poverty and social exclusion that are a daily reality for millions of people and families. A social and economic structure that generates inequality, where it is almost impossible for those who have been left out to re-enter".

Likewise, the general secretary of Caritas Spain highlighted the accuracy of this study, which has a minimum margin of error and is carried out "from the eyes of those affected" in order to know the reality to be able to address it with effective measures.

Labor precariousness

Raúl Flores, coordinator of the Caritas Research Team and technical secretary of FOESSA, has been in charge of showing the main results of this study of more than 700 pages.

As Flores wanted to highlight, one of the main consequences of this crisis has been the increase in job insecurity, which has doubled in this time, reaching almost 2 million households in which all members of working age are unemployed. 

In line with the chronification of the situation of vulnerability pointed out by Natalia Peiro, Raúl Flores pointed out how, in this area, the most affected have been those who were already in a situation of precarious employment, with temporary or part-time contracts and who have not been able to take advantage of the companies' ERTEs.

The new social exclusion gaps

The report speaks of a new factor of social exclusion that has highlighted this pandemic: digital disconnection. That is, the lack of internet access in 1.8 million households, which is an added factor of difficulty for more than 800,000 families who have lost opportunities to improve their situation due to digital issues such as lack of connection, lack of computing devices or digital skills.

Women suffer, in a special way the consequences of the crisis.Social exclusion in households headed by women has gone from 18% in 2018 to 26% in 2021, an increase that multiplies by 2.5 the one registered during the same period in the case of men (who went from 15% to 18%). In this sense, Raul Flores wanted to highlight that "gender differences have remained absent from the political and media debate in these months, something that refers to structural issues and that it is important to take into account in order to design effective public policies".

Young people, in the tightrope... again

Being young is another factor of exclusion that the pandemic has brought to light. Raúl Flores himself has pointed out that in the case of young people "they have experienced two major crises in an essential phase of their life projects in which the transition to employment, to adult life, emancipation or the construction of new homes is being considered: those who were 18 years old in 2008 have been hit by the 2020 crisis at the age of 30". This means that, in 2021 more than 650,000 people between 16 and 34 will join the situation of exclusion, most of them in a situation of severe exclusion which means 500 thousand young people more compared to 2018.

The migrant population has been another of the groups particularly affected by the pandemic. The study shows how the immigrant population has suffered an incidence rate of Covid-19 almost 3 percentage points higher than among the population of Spanish origin. As Flores points out, "the causes are obvious: worse living conditions, less well ventilated housing and more overcrowding; as well as fewer resources to adopt preventive measures both at home and in the workplace".

Beyond income and work: personal relationships

Another area affected by the pandemic has been personal and family relationships. More than three out of ten families consider that the pandemic has had a considerable or great impact on the deterioration of their social relationships and the percentage of people who have helped or help other people has decreased significantly, and, to a lesser extent, also the percentage of people who have had or have someone who can help them. This weakening of external links to the household continues to be more pronounced in households in severe exclusion and in single-parent households headed by women.

Challenges and proposals

The Covid-19 crisis is leaving a deep imprint that impinges on the burdens of the Great Recession of 2008-2013 that were not fully resolved in the following recovery period.

In view of this situation, the Foessa report and Caritas Española consider it necessary to improve the social protection system in the future with the following proposals:

1. Maintain in a stable manner for the future the provisional measures taken in the case of health, housing or social protection with the necessary adaptations to periods of economic stability. The challenge for the social protection system is to prevent these new situations of vulnerability and intensification of severe exclusion from becoming chronic.

2. Improve the coverage of the Minimum Vital Income, since it represents a significant social advance to correct the imbalance between the social protection of the stable working population and that which is precarious or in a situation of social exclusion. Of the 850,000 beneficiary households initially planned, as of September 2021, only 315,913 households, 37% of those initially planned. An average of 2 beneficiaries for every 10 people living in severe poverty in Spain.

3. Re-launch the welfare state model as a whole, with a clear orientation towards access to rights as a channel for social inclusion and the "rescue" of the most excluded sectors.

4. Implement measures to reduce hyper-flexibility, improving the social organization of working time also in jobs in excluded sectors, unskilled, temporary and precarious jobs - the so-called "essential" sectors of cleaning, hospitality and agricultural work among others -, and to put an end to situations of irregularity.

5. Low wages should also be complemented by other redistributive measures, in the form of employment incentives, either in the form of supplementary benefits for low-wage workers or as refundable tax deductions.

6. Among the pending challenges, there is also the challenge of guaranteeing a quality public health system and a change of strategy and paradigm in the area of care for people in a situation of dependency and in need of care.

7. Implement policies against residential exclusion, as the percentage of households residing in unhealthy housing (up to 7.2% in 2021) or overcrowded (up to 4% in 2021) has doubled since 2018. In addition, COVID-19 has worsened or strained most housing access and maintenance indicators. The number of households, from 1.1 million to more than 2 million, that were in arrears or did not have enough money to pay for housing-related expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments, nearly doubled from 1.1 million to more than 2 million.

8. Overcome the educational gap caused by the digital blackout. Public policies should provide the necessary means for all people to overcome the digital divide. On average, in 2020, 15% of households with children under 15 indicate that their qualifications are worse than in 2019. A percentage that increases considerably in the most vulnerable households: 31% of households in which Roma minority children and adolescents (NNA) live and 25% of households in the lowest income quartile.

9. Moving towards social services adapted to the social realities of the 21st century. Given the enormous global challenges facing social policies, such as, among others, the aging of the population, the fight against social exclusion, the protection of vulnerable minors and the integration of the immigrant population, we need social services adapted to the new social realities.

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