The pandemic raised poverty in 2020 to the highest level since the Great Recession
A man waits in one of the queues to collect Caritas food in Aluche (Madrid).INMA FLORES / EL PAIS

Poverty and inequality were gradually being corrected in Spain after the Great Recession that broke out in 2008. However, the pandemic and the economic consequences due to the strong restrictions that have been imposed to combat it have meant a serious setback. The severe poverty rate increased in 2020 to 7% of the population, about 3.3 million people according to the Survey of life conditions published this Thursday by the INE. The figure is well above the 4.7% recorded in 2019 and is very slightly below the peak of 7.1% that was reached in 2014, at the worst moment of the financial crisis. Public mechanisms such as ERTE and family aid have provided an important cushion that has prevented these numbers from being worse given the brutal stoppage of the activity.

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The indicator of severe material deprivation, unlike the other data that is prepared with the income of 2019, is made from a survey. According to the survey of the National Institute of Statistics, which was carried out in the fourth quarter of 2020 and therefore reflects the situation at that time, some 3.3 million people in Spain faced a situation of severe material shortage, understood as deprivation of up to four declared needs from a list of nine: they experience serious difficulties making ends meet (10%, about three percentage points more than the previous year); they do not have the capacity to face unforeseen expenses (35.4%, almost two points more than the previous year); have suffered delays in paying the expenses of the main home or in installment purchases (13.5%, double than in 2019); they cannot afford to go on vacation one week a year (34.4%, one point more); they cannot keep the house at a suitable temperature; they cannot afford a meal of meat or fish every other day; they cannot have a car; one telephone; a television or a washing machine.

These data speak of a precarious situation in the homes, but do not provide enough information to indicate that there is necessarily indigence. Regarding the impact that the pandemic has had on inequality, the public figures this Thursday by the INE refer to 2019. To date, there are only preliminary estimates prepared by the Bank of Spain and that confirm a strong increase. According to these, the 10% with the highest income went, with the first wave, from earning 5 times what the poorest 10% obtained to earning about 18 times. And with the recovery that took place in the third quarter of last year, it fell to 8 times, still very high differences.

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