Not living the dream.jpg

Not living the dream


[email protected]

AS THE credit crunch hits countries around the world, it is often the poorest members of society who are left struggling to meet their basic needs. However, in the Algarve, all sectors of society are left feeling the pinch.

Although an idyllic picture of beaches, golf courses and sunsets is painted by tourism officials and holiday companies, the reality of living in the Algarve is that a large proportion of people are living close to poverty.

Portugal is the poorest country in Western Europe.  According to statistics from Eurostat, more than 70 per cent of people in Portugal have difficulty paying monthly bills, a number only surpassed by Bulgaria.

Officials, charities and even some businesses in the Algarve are reacting to the financial crisis in various ways.  A restaurant in Albufeira is offering 1,200 meals to impoverished people until December 22, with the local Câmara providing free transportation to and from the restaurant. Meanwhile in Loulé, food parcels are to be distributed to more than 19,000 members of the community to help tackle poverty at Christmas time.

Isabel Jonet of the food bank in Portugal described the people asking for help from the food banks nowadays as being Portugal’s “new poor”.  These are people who have two incomes coming into the home, yet this is still not enough money to cover rent and bills, leaving nothing left at the end of the month to buy food with.

“Requests for help have increased exponentially over the past six months.  We expect thenext year to be very tough,” said Isabel Jonet.

Financial difficulties are hitting all sectors of society including foreign residents in the Algarve.  Residents reliant on funds from the UK have seen income from stocks and shares plummet and the pound drop to new lows decreasing the amount of money available for living costs.

British Consul Paul Rodwell told The Resident: “Because of the credit crunch, we are anticipating many problems coming from both holidaymakers and residents in the coming months.”

He added: “We appreciate that we need to be looking at issues concerning works and pensions as they become prominent subjects in the community and also at fuel allowances as the costs of living increase in the Algarve.”

British residents need to be aware that although members of staff at the consulate are able to help with numerous issues, they are unable to give money to people as stated in Foreign and Commonwealth Office guidelines: “We cannot pay any bills or give you money (in very exceptional circumstances, we may lend you some money, from public funds, which you will have to pay back).”

One of the main problems identified in Portugal is the ratio between minimum wages and living costs.  A Europe wide survey by Eurostat in July found Portugal to have a minimum wage of 497 euros per month before tax.  In comparison, the minimum wage in the UK is 1,148 euros per month, 681 euros per month in Greece and 700 euros per month in Spain.

Minimum wage is, of course, relative to living costs, however, basic amenities are expensive in Portugal with gas prices equal to Italy and Denmark and electricity costing more in Portugal than the UK, France or Spain.

Luxury goods such as electrical appliances are also high with prices surpassing those in the UK and Germany and being similar to prices found in Spain and Austria.

If you are having financial difficulties while living in the Algarve, please contact the consulate by calling 282 490 750 for further advice.