January 27, 2020

UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty to visit Spain on fact-finding mission

UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty to visit Spain on fact-finding mission

Philip Alston, the UN’s expert on extreme poverty, is to visit Spain on a 12-day tour to investigate what is being done to address inequality, unemployment, and social exclusion in the country.

Alston, who begins his mission in Madrid before traveling to Galicia, the Basque country, Extremadura, Andalucía, and Catalonia, will be looking into how Spain’s social protection system works for those in poverty and examining areas such as housing, education, and health care.

Europe’s fifth largest economy recently welcomed its first coalition government since the 1930s as the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and the far-left, anti-austerity Unidas Podemos alliance entered office. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has pledged to bring about a transformation in equality and social justice.

Over 26% of Spain’s population lives at risk of poverty or social exclusion according to the National Statistics Institute, one of the highest rates in Europe. Its unemployment rate, at 14.1%, is more than double the EU average. Roughly half the population have some difficulty making ends meet, and poverty is persistently higher for children, migrants, and Roma populations.

“I think there’s no shortage of statistical indicators to suggest that Spain has significant problems in terms of its less well-off population,” says Alston.

“Anyone who reads reports will know that there’s something of a housing crisis in Spain. I think there are pretty serious issues about the level of unemployment in general—but particularly for youth and also for women. I’ll certainly be dealing with groups like children, people with disabilities, migrants and others, but I don’t think it’ll be confined to those more specialised areas.”

Alston hopes the new government will be receptive to his findings. He believes that it is important to look at the distribution of wealth in the country. He says that “while the overall economy is certainly doing well, it’s not so clear that those in the bottom 50% or lower have seen the real benefits of the economic recovery. I think it’s going to be important to look at more focused policies that can ensure that the good news is more widely shared.”

Martin Biewen of the University of Tübingen has written about the persistence of poverty for IZA World of Labor. He believes that “[p]eople who are persistently poor or who cycle into and out of poverty should be the main focus of anti-poverty policies.”

According to Biewen, “[p]olicies that promote education, employment, and attachment to work will be most effective in reducing persistent poverty, along with policies that strengthen family and job stability (such as childcare subsidies).”

Read more from IZA World of Labor on poverty, its consequences, and how to fight it.