On the European Social Network’s (ESN) recent visit to Catalonia we met representatives of local (Barcelona County Council) and regional government (Generalitat). We visited services in order to better understand the impact of the crisis and discussed how best to support ESN Members in Catalonia in the future. This visit took place in April at which point the 2013 budget still hadn’t been approved because the Generalitat rejected the deficit objective of 0.7 established by the central government in Madrid. This would have meant imposing further cuts in education, health and social services.

We met the Minister for Welfare and Families of the Generalitat, Neus Munté i Fernàndez. She explained some of the challenges and worries they face: “We are worried about all the work we have invested in building a sustained welfare state during the past 35 years. Now an increasing number of people need access to public services but resources keep on shrinking. That is why it is important to promote a sense of co-responsibility also with the private sector to make sure that service provision is sustainable.” The Minister emphasised child poverty (currently at a rate of 26% in Catalonia) as a priority: “When unemployment increases and allowances are being reduced, it is important to strengthen family and childhood policies. That is why we are working for a comprehensive Childhood Pact with the participation of all political parties and sectors.

We visited Espai Cabestany, a service for young people leaving care that is run by the Generalitat’s Department of Welfare. The service funds education, social inclusion and housing projects in cooperation with the NGO sector, local financial institutions and other regional departments. Its director, Jordi Bach, explained that the budget has been maintained throughout the past years and the centre is now engaged in a research study that aims to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programmes which reach over 6 000 young people.

On a visit to Joia, a foundation aiming to promote the social inclusion of people with mental health problems, its co-director Enric Arqués, explained the difficulties they have been facing: “I have just been informed that our budget will be reduced with 6% added to the 10% reduction in 2011 and the 4.8% cut of 2012.” With a team of more than 100 professionals, Enric Arqués and his team help over 1 200 users per year in Barcelona through programmes funded by the health, welfare and employment departments of the Generalitat.

ESN also met Pep Muñoz, Director of Social Welfare at Barcelona County Council, an ESN member, that provides public services on a co-payment basis with local municipalities (58%/42%). Barcelona County Council assesses the projects submitted by municipalities for co-funding; most are home-care services and front-line social services. Budget cuts are requiring municipalities to introduce co-payment systems.
It was clear from our visit that there is a shared concern both about maintaining services (developed over many years) but also generating new ideas on how to move forward. The Catalan government has allied its social priorities to Europe 2020.

John Halloran and Alfonso Lara Montero

Facts and figures

  • According to a study recently published by Barcelona County Council, poverty rate in Catalonia is 29.5% (October 2012).
  • There are 102 evictions every day. 
  • Health budget was cut 10% in 2011 and 4.8% in 2012.