How inflation in Spain is driving working people to the ‘hunger queues’

With a secure job as a bricklayer and monthly wages of €1,200, Hugo Ramírez never thought he would need the help of charity to feed his family. But spiralling living costs in Spain mean the 44-year-old father of three has been left with no other choice.

How inflation in Spain is driving working people to the 'hunger queues'
People queue up to get food next to Aluche neighborhood association local in Madrid on November 19th 2022. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

“We see prices increase every week, even for basic goods,” he told AFP as he stood before wooden crates of fruits and vegetables at the entrance of a residential building in Madrid.

Driven by the war in Ukraine, Spanish food prices jumped 15.4 percent in October from a year earlier, their biggest increase in nearly three decades, according to the National Statistics Institute.

Sugar was up 42.8 percent, fresh vegetables rose 25.7 percent and eggs 25.5 percent as staple items soared.

In a bid to ease the pressure on squeezed households, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s government — which faces an election next year — has spent billions of euros on extra welfare spending.

Every Saturday Ramírez, who is from Venezuela, comes to this food bank set up by a neighbourhood association in the working-class district of Aluche during the pandemic to pick up food supplies.

He earns €1,200 a month while his wife makes €600 working part time as a domestic helper.

After paying their monthly rent of €800 and €300 for utilities “there is not much left,” he said.

Driven by the war in Ukraine, Spanish food prices jumped 15.4 percent in October from a year earlier, their biggest increase in nearly three decades, according to the National Statistics Institute. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

The line of people seeking help stretched far down the street. Many of them are immigrants.

Similar lines, dubbed “hunger queues”, can be seen regularly outside of other food banks across the country.

Insufficient salaries

“Every week we see new families in need, especially since the start of the war in Ukraine” in February, said Raul Calzado, a volunteer with the Aluche neighbourhood association.

Some mothers have stopped buying feminine hygiene products to be able to feed their children, he added.

The association currently offers aid to 350 households, a number Calzado expects will rise to around 400 by the end of the year.

Behind him dozens of other volunteers are busy at work, surrounded by boxes of pasta, canned goods and baby diapers.

“Some beneficiaries have no revenues. But we also have more and more retirees with small pensions or people who work but whose salaries are insufficent,” said the association’s vice president, Elena Bermejo.

One in seven homes in Spain suffers food insecurity, meaning inadequate or insecure access to food due to low income. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

Among the measures Spain has introduced are subsidies for transport, a one-off payment of €200 for the unemployed and a 15 percent increase in pensions for the most vulnerable such as widows.

But charities that work with the poor say the measures are not enough.

“For some families, even buying a litre of olive oil or a kilo of lentils has become difficult,” said Bermejo.

Donations down

Food banks, which had started to see dome relief as people returned to work after pandemic shutdowns, are struggling to meet the growing demand.

“With inflation, we are seeing a decrease in donations” since people have less money, said the spokesman for the Spanish Federation of Food Banks, Luis Miguel Rupérez.

And higher prices also mean food banks can’t afford to buy more food themselves, he added.

The federation collected 125,000 tonnes of food since January, compared to 131,000 tonnes during the same time last year.

Food banks provide help to over 186,000 people in the Madrid region, and 1.35 million in total in Spain — roughly the same population as Barcelona, the country’s second biggest city.

One household in seven in Spain suffers food insecurity, meaning inadequate or insecure access to food due to low income, according to a study published earlier this year by the University of Barcelona.

“I hope it will get better but I’m afraid that won’t be the case,” said Ramírez as he clutched a bag of groceries from the food bank.

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Black Friday in Spain: What you should be aware of

Here's what you need to know about the Black Friday sales in Spain in 2022, from when they start to which retailers are offering discounts and why the sales aren't always as good as they're made out to be.

Black Friday in Spain: What you should be aware of

Black Friday is the day when some of Spain’s biggest retailers hold huge sales and give massive discounts (or so they claim) in the run-up to the start of the Christmas shopping season.

The tradition originated in the US as it was held the day after Thanksgiving.

READ ALSO: Where Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving

While Spain doesn’t generally celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday, it does however go in for Black Friday in a big way, along with many other countries around the world.

Spain began getting in on the Black Friday action in 2011 when the regulations on promotions and sales changed.

When is Black Friday?

This year, Black Friday will be held on Friday November 25th, but many companies and online retailers decide to hold sales throughout the month or even extend them for a whole week instead of just one day.

For example, tech store MediaMarkt began giving discounts on November 1st and will continue its sales until November 30th, while Mr. Wonderful began its discounts early too on November 18th.

Inditex group (which includes clothes stores Zara, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Oysho and Stradivarious) will publish their discounts online on Thursday November 24th.

Many stores will also extend their offers until Monday November 28th, which has become known as Cyber Monday. On this day, more tech companies and online retailers will be offering discounts too.

What will there be discounts on?

There will be Black Friday sales in Spain on everything from fashion and beauty to sports equipment, homeware and technology, among others.

Businesses are also allowing the return periods to be extended until January 6th 2023 or even into February, so that people can start their Christmas shopping early.

Spanish stores such as Mango, Zara and El Corte Inglés will all be having sales, as well as international and online retailers such as Amazon and Primark.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea will be doing something a little different this year, having a Green Friday where they’ll buy back some of your old furniture. 

According to a study by online marketing company Webloyalty, it is expected that online spending will grow by 25 percent compared to 2021, despite the rise in the cost of living and the financial squeeze many are experiencing.

Are Black Friday sales in Spain really that good?

Research conducted by Spanish consumer watchdog OCU over the past seven years has proven that many shops put the prices of their products up before Black Friday, so that the discounts they then apply aren’t really bargains for shoppers, but businesses get to capitalise on the shopping frenzy. 

In 2021, OCU spent 30 days writing down prices for almost 17,000 products in 52 stores. Almost a third of them rose in price (32.5 percent of the products), 11.8 percent of which cost less in the week of Black Friday. Overall, an average price rise of 3.3 percent was calculated.

There’s even a Twitter hastag #timofertasBF ( abit like ‘ripofferBF’) where user post the products that claim to be on discount but really aren’t.

Therefore, when it comes to big purchases in particular, make sure that you’re familiar with the average price of the product before Black Friday by comparing prices online. That should help you to ascertain whether you’re actually getting a good offer. 

If it’s a top-of-the-range product that’s just been released, don’t expect it to be on sale, and if it is, you should be suspicious.

Watch out for Black Friday scams

Be aware that while Black Friday can mean some great bargains, it’s also a day that brings out scammers and people who are waiting to steal your personal details.

In the past, there have been situations where second-hand items never arrive, the setup of fake online stores and discounts that contain malware.

You should particularly look out for phishing scams, where people try to steal your identity or personal details and fraudulent text messages.

Experts agree that there are several ways to protect yourself against potential Black Friday fraudsters including avoiding suspicious links or online shops you’re not aware of, using only official websites, creating strong passwords, not trusting any discounts that seem way too good to be true and using online security software.