WHETHER or not Spain is doing well depends upon who you listen to, and whose statistics you pay attention to you.
While in general terms, Spain's economy is booming, showing much higher levels of growth and prosperity than our other EU neighbours are registering, but two sets of data published in the press over the last few days reveal that there are a few, worrying, cracks in this image of the country.

Between 1999 and 2005, Spanish businesses have seen profits rise by an average of 73 percent, and it is true that Spain has put in a better performance than its European neighbours in terms of economics. These figures, published by the OECD, confirm what Spanish politicians have been claiming for some time now: the country's economy is booming (with the construction industry playing an important part in this boom), and Spain is posting very healthy growth rates.

But it would be foolish to take these figures alone, as underneath excellent results for many Spanish businesses and investors, there are signs that this growth isn't as positive as it first seems. These excellent topline figures have actually been made possible by sacrifices elsewhere: between 1995 and 2005, the average salary in Spain has actually declined by 4 percent, so while big businesses have revelled in their success, your average Spaniard has ended up losing money over the past 10 years.

No wonder everyone is complaining about how expensive things have become, and contrary to popular belief that it's the euro we should blame, it appears things started getting more expensive long before the peseta disappeared.

Belt tightening at the bottom end of the scale has made big business gains a reality at the top end - and the influx of immigrants has also had a part to play in this uneven spread of the wealth. Rapid growth of non-European immigrants in the country, who quite often take on low-paid, unskilled jobs, means that the bottom end of the salary base has expanded.

Yet despite earning little, these immigrants still have to rent or buy a property, travel to and from work and consume food, clothes and use services - and this increase in expenditure helps boost the economy overall. Yes, Spain has seen some great economic results, but unfortunately, only a privileged few have felt the real benefits.

The OECD's report shows that the richest 20 percent of Spain's population earns 5.4 times more than the poorest 20 percent - when the European average for this difference stands at 4.9 (and in countries such as Germany and France, those in the richest segment earn just four times more than the poorest segment).

Other figures published last week are further proof that the economic gains made by certain groups haven't trickled down to much of the population.
Figures prepared by UNICEF show that, alarmingly, 15 out of every 100 children in Spain lives in poverty, and this figure puts Spain near the bottom of the list of child poverty, in comparison to other OCED countries.

UNICEF reached its conclusions by measuring poverty in developing world terms - a family unit is considered to be impoverished when the family unit survives on less than half the country's average salary. In Spain, where average family income stands at around 18'500 euros a year, those living in relative poverty receive just 50 percent of this sum a year.

This measurement of “relative poverty” is considered an important indicator of wellbeing. Children born into households with this level of income are more likely to have health problems, they perform worse at school and more often than not, they enter the workplace without sufficient qualifications or training.

It is interesting to note, however, that in the list of OECD countries where children reside in families of relative poverty, Spain may rank twentieth overall (Denmark tops the list as the country with the lowest incidence of infant poverty), Spain still comes ahead of Ireland, Italy and the UK (where 15-16 percent of children live in poverty), and the USA lies in last place, as nearly 22 percent of children there live in houses that receive less than 50 percent of the average income.

But whatever the performance of other countries, that shouldn't serve as an excuse for Spain - the high number of children living in impoverished homes is a result of years of mistaken politics.

Spain invests just 2 percent of its welfare budget on family support, whereas spending across the EU averages at 8 percent.
Spain is traditionally a Catholic country, one where the family plays a central role in the community in terms of care and support and where, typically, the family has often stepped in where the state has been unwilling or unable to provide.

But Spain has changed, and as such, Spain's government and welfare politics require a change too. There are more single-parent families in Spain now than ever before (some 1.4 million), and a third of these fall into UNICEF's low-income bracket.

Historically it was the large families, familias numerosas that tended to be the poorest, which is why they still receive discounts and certain benefits, but family structures have changed, and poverty isn't limited to larger families anymore.

As such, Spain's politicians are going to have to turn away from their macro economic successes and pay greater attention to caring for the next generation of Spaniards.

Behind the big numbers that illustrate Spain's economic good health, there's another set of less favourable figures - which are proof that something needs to be done to close the gap between the country's richest and poorest residents.

The way to narrow it is to invest more in public services, only with fair wages, decent education and proper healthcare will the lower paid segment of the population ever be able to ensure their children have access to greater opportunities and wellbeing.

Europe invests on average 28 percent of its GDP in social spending and protection; Spain spends just 20 percent of its GDP on the same area. At times, the numbers speak for themselves, don't you think?


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