The bitterest side of the pandemic
BarcelonaYou only have to walk around some of the streets of the main cities of the country to find, in front of a church, an athenaeum or any other place, a line of people waiting with a shopping cart. And if we approach them we will see that they are people who are queuing up to collect food that is distributed solidarily by different social entities. The affluence to these soup kitchens rooms has doubled or tripled with people who recently had a stable job, according to the testimonies collected by ARA from several of these entities; a way of emphasising that, along with the health crisis caused by the pandemic, with dozens of deaths daily, there is also a social drama that will have to be managed for a longer time.
It is not by chance that the European Union has decided that Spain is entitled to an extra €10.5bn in European funds in the form of subsidies that have to be allocated for the reconstruction, after recalculating the economic impact of the pandemic. Let's remember that the fall of the Spanish and Catalan GDP during 2020, which is estimated to be between 10% and 12%, doubles that of other countries such as Germany (5%). The economic impact, which is easily verifiable when we see hundreds of businesses closed on our streets, will be different from that of the 2008 crisis, but the image of the queues in soup kitchens will be the same.
In this crisis, a series of social protection policies have been deployed, such as the furlough scheme, which are softening the blow, but there are serious doubts about what the economic landscape will be like when the pandemic passes. For a start, many of these jobs that are now being maintained with state aid will not be able to be maintained because they belong to sectors, tourism for example, that will take years to recover to 2019 levels. The economic and social challenge is therefore enormous, because on the one hand we will have to build a social network powerful enough that thousands of families do not sink into misery and, on the other, we will have to draw up plans to relocate at least part of this contingent of new unemployed to other more sustainable sectors.
This is precisely the aim of the vital economic reconstruction plan designed by Europe, which wants to take the opportunity to take a leap forward in the field of digitalisation and the green economy. Governments, and society as a whole, will have to be aware, however, that change takes time, just as there are still people who have not recovered from the 2008-2012 crisis, in which thousands of people lost their jobs in the hugely bloated construction sector.
In this case, we must be very careful to prevent businesses that can be profitable and create jobs from closing down, drowning in debt because of lack of timely assistance. Every closed restaurant or bar, not to mention hotels or amusement parks, means people without a job and, as a consequence, families losing homes. And the queues we see today might only be a preview of a much harsher reality to come unless strategic action is taken in time.