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The places in Spain where burglaries have gone up during the pandemic

There were more than 100,000 burglaries in Spain in 2020 and a new study shows just how criminals have adapted their modus operandi to take advantage of the country’s state of alarm and lockdowns.

The places in Spain where burglaries have gone up during the pandemic
Photo: Unespa, The Digitial WayPixabay

Burglaries and shop/business thefts actually dropped by 27 percent overall in Spain in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the latest Interior Ministry figures.

However, it’s a bittersweet figure for the Spanish government as despite the lower rate of criminality during a year marked by everyone being locked up at home, 103,293 reported cases of breaking and entering were still able to take place.

A recent study by Spanish insurance company UNESPA sheds some light on how burglars have been able to get around Covid-19 restrictions, and as result certain areas have seen an increase in burglaries.

The main conclusion they’ve drawn is that burglars – ladrones in Spanish – have taken their illicit business to the coast, especially Spain’s Mediterranean regions.

Where have burglaries been happening the most in Spain?

Taking the national average for burglaries per province, UNESPA’s study found that the three provinces with the highest burglary rates were all in Catalonia.

The report classified different provinces according to a percentage of probability of burglary, compared to the national average. 

Girona (+89.4 percent), Tarragona (+65.8 percent) and Barcelona (+56 percent) were the three provinces in Spain where homeowners were most likely to suffer a burglary, followed by Murcia in Spain’s south east with +46.1 percent.

The rest of the provinces with the highest likelihood of suffering a burglary were on the coast with the exception of Toledo (+20.4 percent), such as Huelva in Andalusia (+18.4 percent), Lérida in Catalonia (+18 percent), Alicante in the Valencia region (+18 percent), Vizcaya in the Basque Country (12 percent), Valencia province (5.9 percent) and neighbouring Castellón (4.8 percent).

The cities and towns (municipalities) where burglaries are most common are almost all in Catalonia: Gerona, Sant Cugat del Vallès, Barcelona, Mataró, Reus, Badalona, Santa Coloma de Gramanet, Murcia, Rubí and Torrevieja.

According to UNESPA, which used data from 27 companies that insure 11.8 million homes located in Spain, all of provinces with a higher chance of burglaries have in common the abundance of second homes that have been unoccupied for weeks and months during Spain’s lockdowns.

“While a burglar who enters a flat in a city tries to act quickly to avoid being discovered by the neighbours and takes valuables that aren’t very bulky”, in summer homes that are isolated criminals “have more time to work”, the study explains.

As a result, the average value of goods stolen during burglaries in Spain has risen to €1,333. In the provinces of Barcelona, ​​Girona, Pontevedra, Lleida and Navarra, the figure is higher still: €1,600 to €1,700.

It’s worth noting that the study took data from 78,000 burglaries that were carried out from the summer of 2019 to the summer of 2020, so it doesn’t just encompass the period since the Covid pandemic began in Spain.

During the first three months of 2020, before the state of alarm was declared, burglars managed to carry out 31,933 burglaries in Spain.

Other studies and police reports from 2020 have shown that burglaries did plummet during the early and strictest months of lockdown (March to May) but as soon as Spain’s deconfinement began, burglars were able to take advantage of the abundance of properties that remained empty during the summer.

Last September, Malaga police confirmed this trend, as international criminal gangs took advantage of reopened travel routes to and out of Spain to break into empty properties in the Costa del Sol.

UNESPA’s map showing the likelihood of a burglary taking place in each of Spain’s provinces (alta meaning high, baja meaning low)

The Spanish provinces with fewest burglaries

The Spanish provinces with the lowest rate of burglaries were the North African city of Ceuta (-76 percent), Las Palmas in the Canary Islands (-51 percent), Teruel in Aragón (-50 percent) and a number of other locations in Spain’s interior, the Canary Islands and Galicia in the northwest.

The case of the Spanish capital is also surprising as the rate of burglaries in Madrid fell to 14.6 percent below the national average, with nearby provinces such as Toledo and Guadalajara having a higher rate of break-ins.

According to locksmith specialists UCES, 80 percent of Spanish homes were built before the 1990s, and in the majority of cases, the locks to the main doors haven’t been updated since then.


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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.