Feeling the pinch from coronavirus, Spain's new poor queue for basics

People queue to receive donated food from volunteers of Vecinos Parque Aluche association as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Madrid, Spain, May 16, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera reuters_tickers
This content was published on May 16, 2020 - 15:43

By Graham Keeley and Elena Rodriguez

MADRID/BARCELONA (Reuters) - Some of Spain's new coronavirus poor stood in long queues in the working-class district of Aluche on Saturday waiting to pick up bags of basic necessities, abruptly tipped into dependence on handouts by the pandemic.

A neighbourhood association has organised a food bank and volunteers were handing out food and other essentials. About 800 families received assistance this weekend, the Aluche Neighbourhood Association said.

"My son is disabled. I have not had work for months. Financially, it is a disaster," said Yliana, a domestic worker who came to live in Spain from Romania.

Rafael Pae said he arrived earlier this year in Spain from Venezuela, itself long battling economic crisis, and has been unable to work.

"A week after I arrived the pandemic started and I have not been able to find a job," he told Reuters.

Spain has been hit by one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19,with 230,698 confirmed cases and 27,563 deaths. Its efforts to curb the spread brought the economy to a grinding halt and sent unemployment sharply higher in March and April, pushing the number of people depending on benefits to a record 5.2 million.

Including furloughed workers and people on medical leave, as many as 7 million people are depending on the state, almost 30% of the working population, according to government data.

In La Mina, one of the poorest areas of Barcelona, many families live by selling goods on the street - but their livelihoods have been cut off amid the country's lockdown, which was one of the strictest in Europe and is only now beginning to be eased.

"Many families here live from day to day. Many are depending on handouts," Susana Martinez Heredia, 28, a tax officer who lives in the neighbourhood, told Reuters.

The area has a large Roma population and Martinez said recently the Association of Gypsies of Catalonia delivered 7 tonnes of food to the needy in the area.

Spain's leftwing coalition government plans to introduce a monthly basic income for its poorest citizens. Social Security Minister Jose Luis Escriva has said it would cost around 3 billion euros a year to finance, though firm details have not yet been announced.

(Reporting by Elena Rodriguez and Guillermo Martinez in Madrid and Graham Keeley in Barcelona; Editing by Nathan Allen and Frances Kerry)

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