New poor in Portugal

THE GOVERNMENT is to increase financial benefits for 25 per cent of the nation’s poorest families.

The measure was announced last week in parliament by Prime Minister José Socrates in his fortnightly prime minister’s question time.

And for the first time during the current centre right opposition party PSD leadership election campaign, front-running candidate Manuela Ferreira Leite said that there are signs that she is beginning to be heard over social issues by the Prime Minister.

The former PSD Minister of Finance and top economist, dubbed Portugal’s Iron Lady because of her unwavering ‘this lady’s not for turning’ principles, said at a party rally in Guarda that the government was now starting to listen to her concerns over social inequality and injustice.

“I believe that it wasn’t by accident or coincidence that the Prime Minister announced his packet of social welfare measures in parliament last week in that he sees that Portugal’s main priority isn’t just one of public accounts and budgetary balance and spending but ones of a social nature too,” she said.

Before 80,000 people in a Guarda hotel, Manuela Ferreira Leite said that the PSD was beginning to “recover its lost credibility”.

The pronouncements were yet another sign that the traditionally conservative centre right wing party was taking on a socialist mantle in order to stand some chance of winning the next general election, after the PS socialist party succeeded three years ago in winning the election by trumpeting more conservative, right-wing economic policies.

The former Finance Minister also warned about the rise of the “new poor” in Portugal which followed, in her opinion, with the bankruptcy of hundreds of Small and Medium-Sized Companies (SMEs).

The PSD candidate also called on the government to think well on the large public works investment projects such as the new airport and TGV as well as drawing attention to young qualified people unable to find appropriate jobs and unemployment in the 40-50 age brackets.

She said that she regretted that the PS party had failed to come up with a single solution for any of these problems.

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