February 7, 2020 / 3:43 PM / 12 days ago

Spain's poor suffer as economy recovers from crisis: U.N. poverty expert

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain is depriving its poor of basic rights, even as its businesses recover from the economic crisis, a U.N. poverty expert said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: A Spanish flag flutters over buildings in Madrid, Spain June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

The country is facing housing problems of “stunning proportions” that are hitting people already struggling without jobs and sufficient benefits, said the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston in a report.

Spain’s Ministry of Social Rights and the Secretary of State for Communication did not immediately respond to requests for a response. Its Ministry for Transport, Mobility, and Urban Planning directed calls to its housing department which did not answer.

His preliminary findings here from a two-week tour of Spain came out as Madrid’s new Socialist-led leftist coalition government completed its first month in office.

It has vowed to improve social spending and has raised the minimum wage by 5.5% - but Alston warned of “a deep mismatch between the needs and the policy responses being considered,” especially on housing.

In 2008-2014, Spain suffered one of the longest and most painful economic crises in Europe, sending unemployment shooting up to 27% and prompting large public spending cuts.

Its solid economic recovery since then has heavily favored corporations and the wealthy, but never restored social protections, Alston said.

“The post-recession recovery that has been so good for some has left many people behind, and that all too little has been done for most members of that large group,” his report said.

It denounced: “Deep widespread poverty and high unemployment, a housing crisis of stunning proportions, a completely inadequate social protection system that leaves large numbers of people in poverty by design.

“Despite the clear need, low cost rental housing is almost nonexistent in Spain,” he said citing data from the Housing Europe network of housing providers that show just 2.5% of Spain’s occupied stock is social, compared with nearly 17% in France and 30% in the Netherlands.

In Honrubia 9, a former council block in a humble Madrid neighborhood which authorities sold to international investment fund Blackstone, residents said they were worried they would be evicted.

“When I asked for social housing, (Madrid council) told me there was a lot of demand and very little availability,” said one tenant.

Alston's assessments of developing and industrialized countries have angered several governments in the past, including in the United States and Britain. (reut.rs/2ujabsV)

Additional reporting by Belen Carreno, editing by Andrei Khalip and Andrew Heavens

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