“The poor will starve or freeze this winter unless governments act”
Almost half Portugal's population struggles on borderline incomes

“The poor will starve or freeze this winter unless governments act”

Salaries and social benefits “must be linked to inflation”, says UN special rapporteur

In a stark message marking International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, United Nations special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter has warned that “lives will be lost” unless governments link salaries and social benefits to inflation.

It’s a message that is particularly relevant to Portugal in as much as the PS government has NO intention of linking salaries and benefits to inflation – while data shows that the number of people on the breadline is mushrooming.

The general consensus is that poverty in Portugal has been exacerbated by Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine.

Data issued by Pordata shows that “almost half the population” – or 4.4 million citizens – are affected by poverty.

“One needs to go back to 2014 – the year in which the 3rd intervention by the Troika in our country ended, to find such an expressive number as the current number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion” says the database, cited in a report by SIC television news.

While Olivier De Schutter is advocating “immediate action” to avoid what could rapidly develop into a humanitarian disaster, governments like Portugal’s are focusing much more on ‘balancing budgets’/ reducing public debt/ good economics.

The Order of Nutritionists has already highlighted the dangers of this – pushing for IVA to be scrapped on ‘essential items’ – by these it means items ESSENTIAL TO MAINTAINING GOOD HEALTH: “bread, rice, pasta, green vegetables, fruit, milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, fish, eggs, pulses, legumes, butter and olive oil”.

As the Order’s president Alexandra Bento emphasised over the weekend, families with teenagers and growing children should not be expected to ‘tighten their belts’ to the point that developing bodies are deprived of adequate nutrition. 

“Household budgets across the world are being stretched beyond breaking point“, agrees De Schutter who believes this means that “even more people in poverty will starve or freeze this winter unless immediate action is taken to increase their income.” 

The combined crises (caused by Covid-19 and now the war) are expected to throw an additional 75 to 95 million people into extreme poverty this year alone, he said – while Portugal’s panorama – as a so-called developed country within Europe – is dire.

According to Pordata, there are three groups most vulnerable to the developing problems: families with children, the unemployed and people over the age of 65.

With large swathes of the country on the minimum wage (currently at just €705, and nigh impossible to live on), this has lost €65 of its value, thanks to inflation.

The statistics entity’s president Luísa Loura stressed the bottom line: “Portugal has a poor population of around 4.4 million people, based on income alone (…) We are talking about almost half the Portuguese population (…) Nearly 40% of households earned (in 2020, according to Pordata’s numbers) approximately €833 per month“, and in the same year, and “for the first time since 2015″, the number of households in the minimum IRS bracket (equivalent to €416 per month) increased. In 2020 there were 58,000 more households than in 2019”, she said.

Unemployment too is increasing – and as has been made patently clear, neither salaries nor pensions are indexed to increases in the level of inflation (politicians have told us this is impossible. It would compromise Portugal’s fiscal credibility as seen by ‘the markets’).

SIC poses the question: “Have Portuguese the conditions to face the winter?” The answer, in terms of housing conditions alone, is ‘not really’. Portugal in 2020 was the “second of the 27 European Union countries least well classified, with more people living in poor housing conditions (25%), and the 5th in line when it came to people suffering from the cold (16%).

A year later the panorama persists, says SIC.

Luísa Loura admits that salaries and benefits have historically failed to keep up with inflation in Portugal, but this year particularly is a ‘bad one’ with very real losses to incomes across the board. Working people, the unemployed, the elderly – they are all affected, hence why unions are protesting; why marches are taking place and why even pensioners have taken to the streets to say “government help (so far) is just not enough”.

Social media too has been highlighting the number of protests being mounted in various European cities and beyond, suggesting “the media is looking the other way”. A tweet showing live footage of protests ongoing in various countries across the globe said today: “When vaccine passports were being implemented, protests took place around the world – but there was hardly any coverage from the media. Due to the cost of living crisis protests are happening around the world, but again, the media turns a blind eye”.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com