Tamara and Zakarias are struggling to survive. Due to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, the pair no longer have any income. Both now rely on food banks.
“If I have breakfast, I don’t have lunch and if I eat lunch, I don’t eat dinner. We have to divide the food into five parts. I have to split breakfast so I can eat. If I buy bread I don’t have dinner,” said Zakarias.
Tamara is unemployed and has run out of benefits. She was supposed to start a job in April, but then the coronavirus lockdown happened. Zakarias has a truck, but hasn’t been able to go out to make a living as a driver.
The Spanish government is planning to ease COVID-19 lockdown measures but the restrictions have led to an unprecedented economic and social emergency in the country.
According to Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE), the unemployment rate jumped to 14.4% in this year’s first quarter. 285,600 jobs were lost in the second half of March, and another 562,900 jobs were suspended.
Overcrowded food banks
In Barcelona, the newly unemployed have joined lines at food banks and aid organisations are struggling to keep up. Tamara says some are refusing to help them.
“There are no services where they give us food, they say they’re overcrowded, we can’t go eat there, it’s impossible. All they have is a cold picnic bag to give us.”
Volunteers at the Santa Anna Church distribute 220 meals a day. The parish priest says he has seen a lot of new faces.
“The kind of people coming to ask for food now is different than before. We now receive more families who live in a flat or a room without a contract, people with no papers. After a month of lockdown, they can no longer keep up with their economic needs”, said Peio Sanchez, rector of the Church of Santa Anna.
Carlos is Colombian and came to Barcelona to study. The coronavirus has ended his dream of becoming a photographer.
“I was trying to find a job and it was quite complicated and the little I found vanished because of the crisis. I will have to come for the same food, fortunately, there are these aids”.
Basic income for all
The aid sector is calling on the government for help to cope with the growing number of people who rely on it. The Spanish government is presenting its plan to ease restrictions on Tuesday and it has already announced that it will roll out universal basic income to help the poorest recover from the crisis.
Carlos Susías, president of the European Network for the Fight against Poverty and Social Exclusion, says this is crucial.
“If it is not implemented, Spain will become be a more polarized society. This could lead to overcrowded protection services and then our institutions will be discredited.”