Thursday, February 06, 2020

Spanish Poverty

Internas (live-in maids) or carers in Spain are underpaid, overworked, unappreciated, often from different countries – Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, to name a couple, trapped, sometimes scared, frequently disdained and often abused. They should be receiving at least the minimum wage of €950 a month, but many make closer to €800 despite working 18-hour days, six days a week.

“We look after old people, we look after children – we’re responsible for all that’s most precious in people’s families,” said Janina Flores, from Peru. “We act as psychologists and confidants, we double up as seamstresses. But we’re not valued.”

Another Peruvian, Adriana Araujo, added cook, butler and pet-sitter to the list. “We do everything you can imagine and more because we’re seen as the right kind of domestic tool,” she said. “But very often we’re valued less than a kitchen blender.”

Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, explained the irony they had outlined – “that people can rely so heavily and so intimately on another person but, at the same time, not really relate to them as a fellow human being.”

Blanca Coronel, a 71-year-old Paraguayan woman who had been in Spain since 2006, said that despite her age and a knee injury she would need to work for another 10 years before she would have accrued enough pension contributions to retire.

Sandra Delgadillo, from Bolivia, recalled being interviewed for a job looking after an old man with a broken hip and being told there would be a bonus if she were prepared to be sexually available.

According to figures from Spain’s National Statistics Institute, 26.1% of the population lives at risk of poverty or social exclusion, up from 24.7% in 2008, while the unemployment rate of 14.1% is more than double the EU average. About half the population have some difficulty making ends meet, and poverty is persistently higher among children, migrants, and Roma populations.

At a housing estate in Torrejón de Ardoz, a town a little north-east of Madrid homemade banners decried soaring and abusive rents and where dozens of locals people turned out to tell the UN expert how they had been affected by the arrival of investment funds that bought up billions of euros’ worth of housing stock during the crisis. Rents have risen 50% since 2014, and some residents say they are now being asked to pay big increases by their multinational landlords. The situation has led to the formation of tenants’ groups and the eruption of bloques en lucha – entire blocks where residents are protesting by staying put, paying the previous rental rates and refusing to sign new contracts that they consider to be grotesquely unfair.
Alston told the crowd that “something drastic needs to be done”, adding: “Successive Spanish governments have done very little when it comes to housing rights.”

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