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Impressions from crisis-hit Spain

Spanish people are vastly losing faith in the institutions that have guided the country through the post-Franco era.
Last modified: 2 Aug 2012 23:30
Spain's main problem is its struggling banks [GALLO/GETTY]

I've spent the past week in Spain, looking at the effect of the economic crisis.

My journey began in a poor suburb of Madrid, with a group of destitute people pleading with God for forgiveness as they linked hands on the pavement.

In truth, their faith in His powers did not seem particularly strong, but as they were queuing for food hand-outs from a religious charity, they were, pragmatically, prepared to go along with the demands of their benefactors.

They had brought shopping trolleys, which they filled with biscuits, bread, tins of milk and other basics. They were grateful to the church, but many seemed ashamed to be here.

I spoke to Basilia, a woman in her late forties. She told me her husband, her grown-up sons and her brother are all unemployed. The entire family relies on a state benefit of 420 euros ($510) per month, and this is due to expire in October.

"After that, who knows?" shrugs Basilia. She was contemptuous of government training programmes for the unemployed.

"You spend all your money paying for public transport to go to training programmes, but there are no jobs at the end of them".

Spanish people are losing faith in the institutions that have guided the country through the post-Franco era.

Recent opinion polls show a sharp drop in support for the governing Partido Popular of Mariano Rajoy, but the opposition Socialists are also struggling in the polls.

Spanish people are angry with the banks, whose problems are an integral part of the country's economic woes.

And they are also increasingly sceptical about the purpose and value of their royal family (regular readers of this blog may remember King Juan Carlos' ill-advised African elephant hunting safari, which continues to leave a sour taste).

"All the pillars of democratic Spain suddenly look wobbly," an analyst told me.

An aid agency, Medicos del Mundo, has recently compiled a report on prostitutes working in Madrid.

The majority of the unfortunate girls on the streets come from eastern Europe and Africa, and are controlled by ruthless gangs who trafficked them into western Europe.

But Medicos del Mundo's startling find was that the proportion of prostitutes who are Spanish has doubled since the crisis began, from roughly eight per cent to between 15 to 20 per cent.

In Barcelona, I spoke to a Spanish prostitute, who said these statistics don't surprise her at all.

She said she knows many women who left prostitution in more prosperous years but who have now returned to it. She was furious with the Barcelona city authorities for introducing steep new fines for prostitutes working on the streets.

"They are trying to criminalise us," she said, "but with six million unemployed in Spain, can you blame people for selling whatever they have?"

Follow Barnaby Phillips on Twitter: @BarnabyPhillips