Spain warned austerity programme breaches human rights
Cuts have led to growth in family poverty, says Council of Europe report
Rocio de las Nieves Reyes Galvez reacts as she waits for the judicial commission to carry out her eviction in Madrid yesterday. She is unemployed and suffers from a heart condition that makes it difficult for her to find a regular job. Her unemployment benefits ran out three months ago and she and her daughter live on the €250 she gets from her former husband as alimony. Reyes Galvez’s eviction was postponed until November 15th after negotiations with Spanish nationalised lender Bankia. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters.
Spain’s ongoing austerity programme has deepened the country’s poverty problem and is breaching the human rights of vulnerable groups such as children and those with disabilities, according to a Council of Europe report.
“Cuts in social, health and educational budgets have led to a worrying growth of family poverty in Spain,” reads the study, which was published yesterday.
It was drawn up by Nils Muiznieks, Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, who visited Spain in June, meeting with ministers, other officials and representatives of civil organisations in Madrid and Seville.
“The growing child poverty, malnutrition and inadequate housing are issues of serious concern because of their potentially devastating long-term impact on children and the country,” the report continues.
It cites figures showing that nearly a third of children in Spain were at risk of poverty in 2011, with the problem worsening since then.
The conservative government of Mariano Rajoy took power at the end of 2011 and since then has implemented a severe programme of spending cuts and tax increases in an effort to slash the public deficit. The previous, Socialist, administration had already embarked on an austerity drive in 2010.
In 2012, the government announced cost-cutting measures in health and education that totalled about €10 billion a year.
“Those who were at high risk of poverty before the beginning of the economic crisis have […] benefitted from very limited protection against the effects of the crisis,” the commissioner found, pointing to the elimination of state handouts to families in recent years, as well as cuts to regional budgets which have affected school meals and other welfare programmes.
Mr Muiznieks’s report warned that children from Roma and migrant families are particularly at risk of falling into poverty in Spain’s current situation. It also said that the impact of cuts was making it more difficult for children with special needs to enjoy an “inclusive environment” in schools.
On Tuesday, the IMF revised its economic forecasts for Spain, projecting a contraction of the economy in 2013 of 1.3 per cent, while it expects unemployment to remain above 25 per cent until 2018.
The government is still struggling to reduce a deficit the IMF expects to total nearly 7 per cent of GDP this year, although its recently unveiled 2014 budget included no new cuts to health or education.
The Council of Europe report also expressed concern at the behaviour of Spain’s security forces in handling civil unrest lately, much of which has been provoked by government spending cuts.
Madrid responded to the criticisms by stating that in non-university education, expenditure per student in Spain exceeds the EU average. The government also pointed out that regional administrations have substantial control over their education budgets, meaning that some have made much larger cuts than others recently.
In addition, it insisted that students with special needs continue to enjoy adequate care across the educational system and countered concerns raised about the welfare of the Gypsy community by pointing to “a specific Roma development programme”.