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INCOME

Spain’s basic income scheme hits backlog dead-end

Three months after Spain rushed to launch a minimum basic income scheme to fight a spike in poverty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the programme is at a dead-end because of an avalanche of applications.

Spain's basic income scheme hits backlog dead-end
Red Cross volunteers bring food packages to elderly and low income people. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP
The measure was a pledge made by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftwing coalition government, which took office in January, bringing together his Socialist party with far-left Podemos as the junior partner.
   
The scheme — approved in late May — aims to guarantee an income of 462 euros ($546) per month for an adult living alone, while for families, there would be an additional 139 euros per person, whether adult or child, up to a monthly maximum of 1,015 euros per home. It is expected to cost state coffers three billion euros ($3.5 billion) a year.
   
The government decided to bring forward the launch of the programme because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit Spain hard and devastated its economy, causing queues at food banks to swell.
   
Of the 750,000 applications which were filed since June 15 when the government started accepting requests, 143,000 — or 19 percent — have been analysed and 80,000 were approved, according to a social security statement issued on August 20.
 
 
'Months of waiting'
 
But Spain main civil servant's union, CSIF, paints a darker picture. “Nearly 99 percent of requests have not been processed,” a union spokesman, Jose Manuel Molina, told AFP.
   
The social security ministry has only really analysed 6,000 applications while 74,000 households that already receive financial aid were awarded the basic income automatically, he added.
   
For hundreds of thousands of other households, the wait is stressful. Marta Sanchez, a 42-year-old mother of two from the southern city of Seville, said she applied for the scheme on June 26 but has heard nothing since.
   
“That is two months of waiting already, when in theory this was a measure that was taken so no one ends up in the streets,” she added.
   
Sanchez lost her call centre job during Spain's virus lockdown while her husband lost his job as a driver. The couple has had to turn to the Red Cross for the first time for food.
   
“Thank God my mother and sister pay our water and electricity bills,” she said, adding their landlord, a relative, has turned a blind eye to the unpaid rent.
 
 
'Rushed everything'
 
A spokeswoman for the ministry acknowledged that the rhythm “was perhaps a bit slower than expected” but she said the government was working to “automate many procedures” so processing times should become faster from now on.
   
“The launch of a benefit is always difficult … and this situation is not an exception,” she added.
   
But Molina said this was a new situation, that was made worse by years of budget cuts to the public service which has lost 25 percent of its staff over the past decade.
   
“The problem is that they rushed everything, did it without training and a huge lack of staff,” he added.
   
The social security branch charged with the basic income scheme has only 1,500 civil servants, who also process most pension applications, Molina said.
   
These officials are facing an “avalanche” of requests, which already match the number of pension requests received in an entire year, he added.
   
About 500 temporary workers have been recruited as reinforcements but their assistance is limited because they do not have the status of civil servant, so they cannot officially approve requests for financial aid.
   
Demand is expected to increase. The government has said the measure was expected to benefit some 850,000 homes, affecting a total of 2.3 million people — 30 percent of whom were minors.
   
When the scheme was launched the government said all it would take is a simple online form, but this is a problem for many low-income families without computers and internet access, especially since the waiting time for an in-person meeting to apply is about two months, according to the CSIF union

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HEALTH

LATEST: Madrid residents urged to ‘stay at home’ as Spain’s coronavirus death toll leaps to 84

The surge in infections brought the total to 2,968 cases in Spain up from 2,140 on Wednesday evening, with deaths leaping to 84 from 48 within the same time frame.

LATEST: Madrid residents urged to 'stay at home' as Spain's coronavirus death toll leaps to 84
A mask has been placed on a model at Las Fallas after the fiesta was cancelled. Photo: AFP

Although there is no official lockdown in the capital, schools and public offices are closed, people are being told to work from home, cultural and sporting events are suspended and sports centres, museums and other cultural spaces closed.

A campaign by Madrid's regional health authorities is urging people not to leave the house unless that have to, in order to curb the spread of the virus and not overwhelm the health service which is already at breaking point.

“This morning, all members of the government will undergo testing,” a government statement said, indicating the results would be published later in the day.

“The minister (Irene Montero) is in a good condition and second deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias is also in quarantine due to the situation.”   


The couple have both been isolated to prevent contagion. Photo: AFP

Montero tested positive on Wednesday evening, three days after appearing at a mass march of some 120,000 people through Madrid for International Women's Day.

 

A special cabinet meeting to discuss an emergency plan of action to respond to the crisis went ahead around 1200 GMT as planned, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and 14 other ministers, it said.

However, all of Sanchez's upcoming appointments would be conducted by video conference.

Spain has seen the number of infections spiral since the start of the week, becoming one of the worst-hit countries in Europe. Madrid has borne the brunt of the crisis with 1,388 infections and 38 deaths.   

The International Women's Day demonstration on Sunday evening took place just hours before health authorities detected a huge spike in infections.

Schools in other regions including Galicia, Catalonia, Murcia and Asturias will be closed from Friday.

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