‘The unemployed are not just numbers’

This cancer sufferer is on a hunger strike to draw attention to the plight of Spain's poor. Meet Beatriz Martínez Figueroa, The Local's latest Spanish Face of the Week.

'The unemployed are not just numbers'
"They are changing the laws to make it a lot harder for people," says sun lover and Vigo resident Beatriz Martínez Figueroa. Photo: YouTube

On May 21st, Beatriz Martínez Figueroa began a hunger strike in the Galician city of Vigo.

This 47-year-old who goes by the name of Bea, but prefers Beatriz, is protesting against conditions for people in Spain who, like her, find themselves in "extreme situations".

"They are changing the laws to make it a lot harder for people," she told Spanish news agency Europa Press in a recent interview.

Figueroa's situation is certainly extreme. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and is currently making do with €426 a month in benefits.

Her financial position is made even more difficult because of new rules which mean she has to pay a flat rate of 40 percent for the cost of all her medicines.

In late May, Figueroa was waiting for new payments to start. She said she was expecting 6 months of cover but didn't know what would happen after that.

In desperation, therefore, Figueroa recently began her hunger strike, a move which she described to Spain’s El País newspaper as an "extreme measure".

"How can we have laws that mean a person with a serious condition like cancer receives only €426 euros a month, and this despite having paid into the system for 20 years?" she said to the newspaper.

She told Europa Press that her appeal against the low level of benefits she received was "humiliating" with the authorities arguing that the amount of money she received was "adequate to cover her food, clothing and housing costs".

"It's insulting," she said.

She also explained to Europa Press that her low level of benefits was a result of the "mere fact" that she was receiving unemployment benefits at the time she was diagnosed with her cancer.

"The unemployed are numbers, not human beings with a life of their own," Figueroa told Europa Press.

Her protest started outside the unemployment office in Navía, near Vigo. She spent several days there but described the experience as a “total disaster”. It was a case of "each to their own".

She told Europa Press she was now moving location and hoped to find a more receptive public.

Speaking about what she hoped to achieve with her protest, Figueroa said she wanted people to think about the issues, and added she had "nothing to lose". However, she remained pessimistic, saying she didn't think the authorities would do anything.

She is positive though, about the way her website had drawn attention to her plight and says she has received plenty of visits to the site.

Figueroa studied law at the University of Santiago but didn't complete her studies there. However, she eventually finished a law degree at the UNED (long distance learning).

She spent a period working on the phones at the Galicia-based newspaper Diario 16 but in an ideal world, she says, she would be a language and literature teacher. She’d also like to live somewhere warm in South America.

She grew up in Vigo and says on her website: "I would sell my soul to the devil for some good seafood".

She has been very involved in social causes including gypsy integration into wider society and promoting literacy for this group.

In May 2010, Figueroa fell ill and she was then diagnosed with cancer in March 2011. In April 2011, she was denied disability benefits.

"Not even the officer in charge of my case could get her head around the injustice of the situation," she wrote on her website.

Also on her website, this life-long resident of Vigo describes how in her local unemployment office she saw a sign which read: "For complaints, arrange an appointment in advance".

For her, this absurd sign sums up much of what is wrong with Spain’s social security system.

Editor's Note:The Local's Spanish Face of the Week is someone in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Spanish Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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This Spanish city has been voted the best place to live by its inhabitants

A new study has revealed the Spanish city with the best quality of life according to its inhabitants. With its well-preserved old town and spectacular wild coastline, we can certainly understand why.  

This Spanish city has been voted the best place to live by its inhabitants
Photo: Harpagornis / WikiCommons

A study by Spain’s Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) has named the Galician city of Vigo as the Spanish city with the best quality of life.

It stands out for its excellent marks in safety, cleanliness, education, environment, and air quality. Respondents who participated in the survey said that it was particularly good for families with children, offering lots of opportunities for leisure, sports and cultural activities.

Vigo sits on the coast, in the southwestern part of Galicia, close to the border with Portugal. As well as its historic Old Town, it’s known for being the gateway to the Atlantic Islands National Park and the idyllic Cíes Islands.  

The only two categories which residents didn’t give Vigo a top score for were the job market and the real estate market, more precisely property prices.

Vigo was rated the best Spanish city for quality of life. Photo: [email protected]/WikiCommons

The Galician city was followed closely followed by Zaragoza, which only scored less on the category of cleanliness, and Bilbao, which only scored less because of its high cost of living. Valladolid and Córdoba recieved good scores from their inhabitants.

The OCU analysis focused on the 15 most populated cities in Spain, although it recognises that there are many other smaller ones that also stand out for their quality of life. Popular cities that were not included in the results are Alicante, San Sebastián, Granada, Marbella, Cádiz, and all the main cities on the Canary Islands.

The worst-rated of the 15 cities included in the survey were Spain’s largest cities – Barcelona, followed by Madrid in last place. Residents market these cities down due to the high cost of living, the housing market, damage to the environment and pollution, as well as urban cleanliness. Although the two cities scored low on these points, they scored highly on job prospects, culture and leisure.

Health services were given a poor score in Madrid, Seville and Málaga, while Barcelona scored low on security, which is also a problem in Seville. Madrid also received a below-average score in education. Transport and mobility were cited as the major issues in both Murcia and Palma de Mallorca.

The survey was carried out during the months of October and November 2020, with almost 3,000 Spanish respondents, members and non-members of the consumer organization, who rated the cities on a number of categories. 

OCU stressed that because the results were polled during the pandemic, many people’s perceptions and priorities had changed.

“It is true that at this time of uncertainty and confusion, with limitations, restrictions, etc., our perception is conditioned by the pandemic, and this can take its toll, especially on cities that are suffering greatly from the consequences of Covid-19,” they point out.

This was evident from the fact that compared to a year ago, the perceived quality of life had “dropped dramatically in all cities”.

READ ALSO: Living in Spain: Why Valencia is officially the best city in the world for foreign residents