Social emergency

"With two daughters you have to look for a safe place to live"

Caritas warns that 40% of families with underage children survive on welfare aid

2 min
Caritas food distribution, in the center of Barcelona, in an image from 2020

BarcelonaFor Paula Carrasco and her two daughters, aged 6 and 17, covid was a watershed. It was the point at which their lives broke down and they had to resort to welfare aid to be able to pay the rent and fill up the fridge. "I had never needed help from anyone until now but I found I had no income and we had to get by." They are one of many families with underage children whose situation has got dramatically worse. Catholic church charity Caritas warns that this group is the most vulnerable: 40% are now in social exclusion, a percentage that grows to 50% when it comes to single-parent families, like Carrasco's. Míriam Feu, head of analysis at Caritas Barcelona, explains they "have difficulty making ends meet and have no income for unforeseen expenses".

Carrasco, 38, arrived in Spain in 2005 from Bolivia. Here she got married, became a mother and, until covid broke out, she got by. During the pandemic she separated from her husband, the girls' father, and had to find a new place to live. Her residence permit was still being processed due to the long waiting list, which she could only skip by accessing the black market for appointments. "They wanted €50 but I didn't have them and after much insistence they let me have one for €30," she says. Carrasco had to survive at first with the help of her network of friends because social services in Barcelona couldn't help her either because she was registered as living in a different town.

Caritas warns that housing is the big expense that unbalances scarce family budgets. The data show that almost half of these families cannot afford a mortgage, rent or subletting a room, to the point that a quarter of them have been forced to move. Carrasco also had to move and find a place suitable for all three of them. "When you're on your own you can be anywhere, but with the girls I can't do that and I had to look for a safe place," she says, although she admits that the alternatives available to her were rather scarce, because she didn't have a bank account nor enough money for a deposit. She was "lucky" when a friend from work offered her a room in her house. The little girl and her mother sleep on a double bed and the older one on a mattress next to it. "We're fine, even though a room is no place for a family to live," she laments.

She pays €250 for the room, which is paid for by Caritas. Barcelona social services pay for their food needs. Carrasco works as a substitute cleaner in a hospital in Barcelona but has nothing permanent. In the summer she got 15-day or 27-day contracts, but in November she didn't get any. The percentage of families with underage children who have no income has risen from 16% to 20%, says Feu.

Social exclusion, Caritas warns, is inherited, and that is why its director, Salvador Busquets, says it is urgent "to end the intergenerational transmission of poverty". On this point, Caritas demands Spain increase the budget allocated to children, which now accounts for 1.3% of gross domestic product (GDP), far from the European average of 2.4%. It also calls for an increase in child allowance and to facilitate access to the Internet to eliminate the digital divide at a time when the procedures (even for basic services such as health care) are done online.