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Crisis forces Spaniards to turn to food aid

posted 21 Nov 2012, 04:51 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 21 Nov 2012, 04:52 ]

Once reserved for those living on the fringes of society and newly-arrived immigrants, more and more Spaniards are turning to food aid to be able to feed their families.

ALCALA DE HENARES, ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF MADRIDSPAIN (NOVEMBER 20, 2012) (REUTERS) -  In a popular neighbourhood in Alcala de Henares, a satellite town nearMadrid, nearly 21,000 people are unemployed, according to latest data from the Employment Ministry. This represents 21 percent of the population.

Spain's flagging economy, the fourth largest in the euro zone, has been the focus of the euro zone crisis alongside Greece for the last few months.

A 2007 property bubble burst led to a banking crisis, then an economic one. Today, one in four is unemployed and as the crisis becomes worse, more and more people are beginning to depend on food assistance.

Twice a week, the Red Cross organises food distribution for fifty or so families -- pasta, cooking oil, baby milk, tins of tomatoes and beans, basic necessity products are given out for free.

The Red Cross said the profile of those in need of food aid has changed since the crisis started in 2009. Once distributed mainly to immigrants with no revenue, food aid is now gratefully received by native Spaniards facing unemployment and poverty.

Juan Jose Sanchez, a pensioner who started volunteering for the Red Crossthree years ago, says about half of those who receive food assistance today are born and raised in Spain.

"We are dealing with people who had a job yesterday, a year ago, they had a normal job and they lived well or at least they were ok, and then they lost their jobs and had to ask for some help. They are worried but I wouldn't say it's shameful. They are just a bit out of their usual way of life," Sanchez described.

Julio del Rio and his partner Inmaculada Dominguez, who fit that description, joined the queue at the food aid distribution centre for the first time.

Del Rio, 39, worked as a security guard until he lost his job because of epilepsy crisis. Dominguez, 37, was working in a school's canteen until her daughter became sick and had to be taken to the hospital three times a week. She said she had no choice but to leave her job to take care of her daughter. She then worked as a cleaner until her employers stopped paying her salary because they said they were not getting paid either.

She said she would try to make the food she receives last as long as possible.

"We have enough for a few days, at least a week and we will try to make it last as long as possible..." Dominguez said.

For Del Rio, the most difficult thing was living in fear of what may happen next.

"If you don't knock on doors to ask for help you will find it difficult to get any help. Even though, you feel distressed because the truth is it is difficult, it's a tough situation. There comes a time when you think, they will take my home, they will take my children, such extreme cases may not take place but you can't help thinking about it," Del Rio said.

Dominguez said what keeps her going is her daughters.

"You have to get on with it, you have two daughters and you can't hide. For them, when you wake up in the morning, you have to put a smile on your face even if you don't feel like it. You don't have any choice," Dominguez said.

Spain has been the main focus of the three-year-old euro zone debt crisis for the last nine months and has already obtained a credit line of up to 100 billion euros for its banks from the European Union, a move which has sparked anger amongst the population who feels their taxes are being used to prop up mismanaged banks, while people lose their jobs and their homes as they are asked to tighten their belts even further.

Like many Spaniards, Del Rio said is he furious at banks being rescued with public cash while ordinary people suffer.

"We are indignant like many people in this country who see that millions of euros are being given to the banks, just for the banks, it seems like a joke. The banks won't get us out of the crisis, the banks won't create jobs. The government should use that money to create jobs," Del Rio said.

Among the needy, nearly half are immigrants.

For Therese Bango, who is living on her own with three young children, the European dream has turned sour.

"When I arrived here, I had a job, I was working, I was married, it was a perfect life. But then everything changed with the crisis, I found myself without a job, without a husband, alone with my children, life became so much harder," Therese Bangofrom Congo explained.

Spain's Red Cross said it will have distributed more than 33 millions of kilos and litres of food to one million people, by the end of the year, via its programme, aptly called 'Ahora + que nunca' or 'Today, more than ever'.

The beneficiaries are the most vulnerable: large families with one or more unemployed people, youngsters who are on the doll, people suffering from long-tern unemployment, children living in poverty, single-parents, homeless.

The food programme comes from Spain's Agriculture ministry, which redistributes food assistance under the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The Red Cross said it wanted to reach out to 300,000 more people in 2013 because of the crisis. The Red Cross also offers support to find employment, basic computer training, financial assistance to pay some bills like water and electricity bills.

Spain is trapped in a vicious circle. On the one hand the government must drastically cut public spending and lay off public workers to show investors it can control the public deficit and try to bring down sky-high borrowing costs. On the other hand, tax revenue is shrinking because of joblessness and recession so the government has increased taxes to try to keep the deficit in line, which in turn inhibits consumer spending and makes the recession worse.