The data on unemployment and rising poverty rates throughout Europe make chilling reading, even more so in our country. For this reason, public and private entities, such as Fundación MAPFRE, have prioritized campaigns to get food to those groups most at risk.
TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL IMAGES: FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE, ISTOCK
The ravages of COVID-19 are not merely health-related. According to the Active Population Survey (EPA) published in February this year, Spain ended 2020 with a total unemployment rate of 16.2 percent. This figure may not give us a true idea of the scope of the problem; putting it into absolute numbers probably hits us harder. We are talking about 3,964,353 people who are currently out of work, i.e. they receive no wages. And, given the panorama, the prospect of finding another job is not good. Not at all.
COVID-19 has caused a historic recession and no obvious improvements are expected until at least the end of 2022. In this context, it can be no surprise that the poverty rate is rising right across Europe.
Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, presented the preliminary conclusions of his mission in the European Union a few weeks ago: the results make chilling reading. More than 92.4 million people — 21.1 percent of the population — remain at risk of poverty in the EU of the 27. A total of 19.4 million children are at risk of poverty throughout the Union.
As the rapporteur stresses, there are faces behind these figures, “those of single mothers for whom it is practically impossible to juggle their work and care responsibilities, young adults who never finished their schooling and cannot find a steady income in the formal sector, and people who cannot work because of their health… I’ve heard testimonies from people living in poverty from all these groups and they told me that they would love to continue studying, but they cannot, as they lack the means to support themselves and their families; that this is the first time in their lives they’ve experienced hunger; that they are poorly treated, with excessive controls and punishments, when dealing with the administrations.”
The situation in Spain is not that different. Quite the contrary, Spain has failed miserably in its European commitment to the 2020 Strategy to take 1.5 million people out of poverty. This is evident from a recent AROPE (At-Risk-of Poverty and Exclusion) report, drafted by the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN). Over the past ten years, not only has it not reduced its poverty rate, but there are now more people beneath this threshold than a decade ago. In Spain alone, 12.3 million people (26.1 percent of the population) are currently at risk of poverty or social exclusion. And remember, this report refers to data collected between 2008 and 2019. In other words, they refer to pre-pandemic days and, therefore, do not include those groups that are now among the most underprivileged sectors this year: the self-employed or small entrepreneurs in the world of culture; ruined catering industry businesses, owners of souvenir shops that depend on tourism, travel agencies… People who do not receive any aid and who, for the first time, have been forced to seek help just to survive.
Given such dramatic figures, the only thing possible is to pitch in and strive to fulfill one of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 2): Zero Hunger in the world
The report presented by Oxfam last January does indeed include the post-COVID economic devastation. It includes the estimated 790,000 people who have fallen into severe poverty in our country over the past 12 months. “Immigrants, young people and women are the groups most affected by the inequality that the pandemic has caused.” Meanwhile, the world’s one thousand richest people have already recouped any economic losses sustained due to COVID-19.
Given such dramatic figures, the only thing possible is to pitch in and strive to fulfill one of the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 2): Zero Hunger in the world. The United Nations itself states that, at present, one in nine people around the world is undernourished: some 815 million people. And it warns that, if recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger will exceed 840 million by 2030.
Pulling together to combat hunger
The Sustainable Development Goals are a fundamental aspect of Fundación MAPFRE’s work. To be sure, SDG 2 is one of the most concerning for the Foundation, now more than ever. Thousands of people have found themselves in need of food for the first time in their lives, because of this pandemic. Providing food support to at-risk groups has become a top priority for Fundación MAPFRE. To this end, it has increased the number of public and private solidarity initiatives with which it collaborates.
Of all the campaigns launched by the Foundation, the Fundación MAPFRE Family Food Card has proved the most spectacular. With a total value of one million euros, the holders (3,400 families) were able to exchange them for up to €100 in essential items at more than 800 Carrefour supermarkets all around the country. The social ventures collaborating in the Sé Solidario program took charge of distributing them on the basis of those at greatest risk of social exclusion.
There are also projects that focus on specific points around the country. One of them is Combating Food Poverty in Extremadura, which provides economic support for the purchase of basic food products, especially fresh produce and proteins. These are then distributed by six regional charitable entities: Hijas de la Caridad; St. Vincent de Paul; Zafra Solidaria NGO; Red Cross of Villanueva de la Serena and Serena County; Caritas in Plasencia, Navalmoral de la Mata and Trujillo; and the San Juan de Dios de Almendralejo Foundation.
Fundación MAPFRE also supports those most in need in the city of Madrid through various campaigns and collaborations. For example, with CESAL, it supports the project ‘No one must be left behind: Emergency STOPCORONAVIRUS, of the Madrid City Council. Thanks to this initiative, 1,000 people in vulnerable situations receive a meal each day through the distribution center at Gastrolab Villaverde. The Santiago Masarnau Social Integration and Reception Center project of the St. Vincent de Paul Society also benefits from the Foundation’s efforts.
The Romani people receive help thanks to the collaboration agreement signed last June with the Gypsy Secretariat Foundation. Because COVID-19 has aggravated the situation of an already vulnerable population group. Prior to the pandemic, 86 percent of them were already living beneath the poverty threshold. With the development of the Social Emergency Fund #JuntoAlasFamiliasGitanas, 70,000 euros will be distributed among 29 localities in 13 Autonomous Communities, which will reach nearly 700 Romani families.
Finally, the Food Bank Federation launched a Global Volunteering Day fundraising campaign; and the World Central Kitchen, which distributed 30,000 Christmas dinners to the groups most affected by COVID.
How is poverty gauged?
While severe material deprivation (SMD) and poverty are different things, the former serves to give us a rough idea of what the latter entails. SMD “includes those people living in households who cannot afford at least four of the consumer concepts, items or elements deemed basic within the European region”, according to the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN), a European Platform of Social Entities working and combating Poverty and Social Exclusion in the European Union Member States. Those concepts are as follows:
- They cannot afford to eat meat, chicken or fish at least every other day.
- They cannot afford to keep their home at an adequate temperature.
- They are unable to deal with unexpected expenses.
- They have had to make late payments related to the family home (mortgage or rent, utility or condominium bills, etc.) over the last 12 months.
- They cannot afford to take at least a one-week vacation each year.
- They cannot afford a telephone.
- They cannot afford a television.
- They cannot afford a washing machine.
- They cannot afford an automobile