Life put Carola Riera in a “very critical” situation, as she says. This 49-year-old woman, raising a 10-year-old girl alone, fell ill and was hospitalized, lost her job, faced an empty pantry. “For months, my fear was that my daughter would open the refrigerator and see that there was nothing,” she says. His efforts focused on breeding. “One doesn’t matter. I took off to give it to her. I was wondering: ‘Mom, don’t you eat chicken?’ and I told him not to worry, that he had already eaten ”. But Carola managed with rice, with eggs, “with other things.” The economic problems drowned her, she asked for help, she cut everything she could cut. Including food.
In Spain there are two and a half million people who cannot afford “a meal of meat, chicken or fish at least every two days.” They are 5.4% of the population, according to the INE survey of living conditions, carried out in 2020. It is the highest percentage since the survey began to be published in 2004, and it means that the year of the pandemic more than 700,000 people joined the list of those who cannot afford the expenses of having a basic diet. An increase of more than 40% and an alarm signal for experts, because it is related to very severe poverty.
Carola came to Valencia from Ecuador two decades ago. His daughter was born there. I worked in a restaurant as a kitchen assistant, I had a six-month contract. In March, when the country was closed, they sent her to the ERTE. “In February I had become ill, I had a bronchitis that did not finish healing, it got worse, the drowning began … In April they admitted me, the doctors told me that at some point I had covid. I was hospitalized for almost a month, I became very serious, my daughter was cared for by two friends ”. He returned home and in August, when his contract expired, it was not renewed. “I spent months entering only 200 euros and the rent was 400. We had to eat, to subsist, so I had to look for a life, I knocked on doors, cleaned an apartment, a house, whatever, for five euros an hour, at one they exploit it, but there is no more ”.
In those days he couldn’t turn on the heating, or use the microwave, he had everything in the dark, he says, so that the receipt wouldn’t go off. Last year 11% of the population could not keep their home at a suitable temperature, the highest percentage since 2014. And 12.2% fell behind at some point in a payment related to the house, such as the mortgage, the rent or receipts, the highest number since 2004. Carola undoes in words of gratitude to a lady from the parish already Caritas, who helped her pay her rent and bills, already Save the Children: “They not only gave my daughter food, there were also times that they gave me food, like another student.” Now he enters 800 euros because since May he has a part-time job. “We are better, but we are adjusted,” he says. She is still on the tightrope: if things go wrong, she has all the ballots to be the first to leave, since she was the last to be hired.
Despite the economic recovery after the previous crisis, it was asymmetrical, far from reaching the levels prior to 2008. Many people were already living on the edge and the pandemic was the last straw. “Food is one of the last things in which a family begins to reduce spending, whoever is at this point means that they have practically run out of income, without a mattress,” says Carlos Susías, president of the European Network to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion (EAPN-ES). For Luis Ayala, Professor of Economics at UNED, the INE figures recall “dramatically” the worst of the previous crisis. “Families have experienced a shock In their homes larger than we imagined, they have had to adjust and reduce their well-being drastically. Just as they have cut back on basic food, surely they have done so in other vital activities, such as necessary goods for children ”, he points out.
Save the Children estimates that last year there were 742,000 minors in material deprivation, a value that is measured when respondents cannot afford four out of nine indicators, including “not being able to eat meat, chicken or fish at least every two days ”or keep the house at a suitable temperature. “We are talking about situations of extreme need, the INE data serve to reflect the advance of what is causing the pandemic,” says Alexander Elu, poverty specialist of this entity. And that despite the fact that in this crisis, he explains, “a social shield has been deployed, unlike in the previous one.” But it calls for increased and improved protection and investment in family and childhood. José Manuel Ramírez, president of the Association of Directors and Managers of Social Services, also calls for improvements: “The management of the minimum vital income is a glaring failure due to the requirements and bureaucracy, it reaches about 300,000 homes when it was expected to reach 850,000 in a year.”
Action Against Hunger began to act for the first time in Spain directly in the field of food safety last year, until now they had focused on social and labor inclusion programs. “In Spain there is not a good photograph on food insecurity because there are no statistics at the national level, in addition to this indicator from the INE, that defines who can have access to a healthy diet sustained over time,” says Luis González, the director of Social Action of this NGO. “But there is no doubt that during the pandemic it increased, and nutrition is the foundation: a poorly nourished child in a high-income country like ours is an overweight and obese child, who is more likely to be an overweight adult. and obesity ”, adds González.
José Amores and Aurora Gutiérrez, a 43 and 29-year-old couple from Seville, respectively, form one of the families that have received a wallet card from this NGO. They are both unemployed and have three children, nine, five and one year old. The middle child has autism and a 48% disability, needs care and costs go up, for example, with diapers. The youngest was born in the hardest part of the pandemic. This last year they have lived with the 450 euros of unemployment benefit. “We are running out now, we are left without any income,” says the father. They have tried to keep children out of financial problems. During confinement, the oldest did not have a computer to do homework, nor was there an internet connection at home. “She realizes, she tells me that her friends are going on vacation, that we can go to the pool. I tell him that maybe next month, I will give him long, ”says the mother. And so they are pulling, juggling the current account. Removing from one side and putting on the other.
“I prefer to take off myself and give my children, eat a little less and have their yogurt up to date,” continues José. “Buying red meat or fish is more difficult, because it is more expensive. But we take chicken or tenderloin ”, Aurora abounds. They say, gratefully, that they live in a social protection house, that they have been given aid in the La Rinconada Town Hall, in the Red Cross, in Cáritas… Thanks to that, the Three Wise Men were able to visit their house last year. “You don’t realize their work until it’s your turn,” continues José. At night, when children sleep, it is easy for the dawn to advance while they turn their heads wondering what they will do the next day, how they will get out of this. Waiting for a phone call to announce that they have gotten a job. José is a gardener, but he works “whatever it takes,” he insists. “Hopefully tomorrow.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.