Access to decent housing is just one of many searing social problems in Portugal today. Image: Lusa

Numbers in Portugal at risk of poverty rose to 17% in 2022

“Without social security benefits, 4.4 million would be poor” – INE

As the country’s media focuses on rising ‘election fervour’, the truth is that the situation in the country is crying out for change.

In the eight years of PS Socialist power – four of those years shared with a radical left wing coalition – the social situation in the country does not appear to have benefited in any perceptible form.

There are still the same iniquities; the same number of citizens ‘on the breadline’ – indeed, according to INE statistics institute, the number of people at risk of poverty rose last year, and would be a great deal higher if it wasn’t for social security benefits.

But this isn’t the worst of a situation that seems ‘inexplicable’ considering the ‘tsunami of funding’ promised by Brussels as a way of boosting post-pandemic recovery and resilience.

There is a new form of violence being perpetrated against the children of poverty stricken parents… by the State.

Público has written an article today explaining that “the lack of access to housing is meaning that more and more children are being removed from their parents when, in reality, according to specialists, who is ‘mistreating them’ are politicians, not their families”.

As other channels picking up Público’s text explain: “Portugal is not protecting families who suffer with lack of access to housing. There are increasingly more families at risk of losing their children through losing their homes.

These families are, in the main, single parent families in the metropolitan area of Lisbon. They are finding themselves on the watchlists of child protection commissions – “not because they mistreat their children, but because they do not have a suitable home”. 

Rute Silva of the Casa Para Viver platform – a movement demanding the right to decent housing – has told Antena 1: “Many times we see children being evicted (with their parents); witnessing evictions, seeing police enter their homes and taking all their belongings into the street. We see many children suffering this kind of mistreatment. It is not the fault of their families. It is the State refusing to offer any kind of alternative”.

In Rute Silva’s mindset, children and their parents “cannot be made to pay for the structural problems that politicians cannot resolve.

“The family has not behaved badly. The blame for these situations is a structural problem – policies that mean people have no access to housing. It is wrong to punish children and families for this”.

She told the radio station that “there are families trying to hide the fact that they have no home, because they are afraid their children will be taken away from them”.

It is a “new form of violence against children”, president of the Order of Psychologists Sofia Ramalho confirmed, highlighting the low salary/ high rent trap in which so many citizens have been falling.

Stories of people forced to pitch tents – even when they are fully employed – in order to make ends meet have peppered the media since the summer. Recent storms, for example, near Lisbon saw a number of these people ‘flooded out’ of their new ‘alternatives’ to the housing dilemma.

INE’s statistics that the number of people at risk of poverty rose to 17% last year, was illustrated (by Lusa news agency) with a photograph of someone sitting at the entrance of a tent, with a dog, on the pavement. Beside her, also on the pavement, was a shot of part of another tent, sheltered by an umbrella (see above).

This is a ‘new reality’ in many of the poorer areas of metropolitan Lisbon and Porto. The number of homeless people has spiked alarmingly since those heady days at the start of President Marcelo’s first mandate where he vowed to eliminate homelessness in Lisbon

As of 2022, INE suggests that 1,775,514 citizens were ‘in poverty’ in Portugal, out of a population of 10,444, 200. Seventeen percent in other words, or round it out to 1 in 5: a tally the country has had for decades.

What does ‘poverty mean’ here? It means “inhabitants with a net monetary income (per adult equivalent) of less than €591 per month”, says INE, adding that “the growth in the at-risk-of-poverty rate affected women more significantly than men”: among women it rose by 0.9 p.p. (from 16.8% in 2021 to 17.7% in 2022), while among men the increase is no more than 0.3 p.p. (with 16.2 per cent in 2022)”.

Welfare benefits “made a smaller contribution to reducing the risk of poverty, since in 2021 they reduced the at-risk-of-poverty rate by 5.1 p.p,. and in 2022 it was 4.2″.

Even so, without welfare benefits, 21.2%of the Portuguese in 2022 would have been poor, which is equivalent to more than 2.2 million people, says Lusa, delivering ‘the kicker’ in a separate text:

“Without social security benefits 4.4 million would be poor – INE”

In other words, forget the 2.2 million-plus who are already poor, twice that number “would be poor” if there were no social security benefits, the National Statistics Institute reveals.

The data comes from the most recent Living Conditions and Income Survey (ICOR), carried out in 2023, but relating to 2022 incomes, explains Lusa, adding that this survey identified that the “poverty intensity rate” has also increased – to 25.6%, up 3.9 p.p), and referring to the “insufficient resources of the population living in poverty”.

What this means is that “society became more unequal in 2022, as the three main indicators of inequality in income distribution increased”.

This saw the proportion of people who live in households unable to afford to replace used furniture, for example,go from 36.3% to 39.8% in 2023; the number who live in households unable to afford one week’s holiday a year away from home rise to 38.9% in 2023, and the numbers unable to pay for an unexpected expense close to the monthly poverty line (€551) without taking out a loan (30.5% in 2023) increase.

The proportion of people (20.8%) living in households that can’t keep their homes warm and who can’t meet up with family or friends for a drink or meal at least once a month has also increased, adds Lusa. ND

Sources: LUSA/ Público