For many families in Portugal, economic crisis has not ended

GMT 15:42 2015 Saturday ,03 October

Arab Today, arab today For many families in Portugal, economic crisis has not ended

Nelson Martinez, 32, waiting for a meal at a distribution point in Porto
Porto - AFP

She used to be a hairdresser with a mortgage on a spacious apartment in Porto, Portugal's second-largest city and the birthplace of port wine.

Now Ana Paula, 48, and her husband Belmiro Silva are out of work, and they are struggling to put food on the table.

With their 16-year-old son, they live in a tiny flat in a social housing building. To them, Portugal's improving economic figures mean absolutely nothing.

"The image the government tries to give is totally false," she said as she sat at a table of a charity that helps the poor in Porto, a city of soaring bell towers and baroque churches.

Portugal's centre-right coalition in campaigning for re-election on Sunday on its record of having steered the country through a punishing international bailout and overseeing a return to economic growth last year with expansion of 0.9 percent after three years of recession.
The unemployment rate has fallen to 12 percent from 17.5 percent at the beginning of 2013 at the peak of Portugal's crisis.

The figures have had no impact on people like Ana Paula, experts say, because the falling jobless rate is due mainly to the largest exodus from the country since the 1960s, when right-wing dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was in power.

Nearly 500,000 people left Portugal between 2011 and 2014, according to official data.

Ana Paula was already out of work in 2011 when her husband Belmiro lost his job as a real estate agent, as bank credit dried up and sales of new homes plunged.
- 'Every euro counts' -
After their unemployment benefits ran out the couple started to collect a welfare payment aimed at people with no income.
But this was slashed by around 25 percent to 305 euros ($342) a month by Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho's government as part of the harsh austerity measures and hefty tax cuts Portugal was required to introduce under the terms of its 78-billion-euro ($88-billion) bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

"We struggle to make ends meet at the end of the month, every euro counts," Belmiro said.
Unable to meet their mortgage payments, the couple was forced to hand over the keys to their 100-square-metre (1,080-square-foot) apartment to their bank and move into a public housing unit that was half the size.

"Luckily, we have never lacked food," said Belmiro, a 40-year-old with a receding hairline.

One in five Portuguese live below the poverty line with an income of less than 5,000 euros per year.
- 'We have gone hungry' -
Portuguese charity AMI has helped around 15,000 people across the country get by each year since 2011, double the number of people it was aiding in 2008 when the economic crisis hit.
Among those who it has helped is 39-year-old Angelo Monteiro, who has been out of work for four years. He used to earn a living as a frozen fish salesman. Now he relies on AMI for food and school materials for his 12-year-old daughter.

"We have gone hungry," said Monteiro, his eyes welling up with tears.

Monteiro also had to give up the keys to his apartment in a suburb south of Porto when he could no longer pay the mortgage, but he still owes thousands of euros to the bank.

"It's really hard when you have to explain to your daughter why the electricity and the water were cut, or when you can't pay for her vaccination against allergies," Monteiro said.
His wife has just found a part-time job at a supermarket but that led to a loss of some government benefits, throwing the family into an impossible Catch-22 situation. Even now, the family's monthly income does not reach 500 euros.
- 'Desperate situation' -
For residents of Lagarteiro, a neighbourhood made up of social housing tower blocks in eastern Porto, the crisis has made life even more difficult.

"This situation on the ground is desperate," social worker Antonio Jose Pinto said.

The impact of the recession and austerity measures "continues to worsen" and "more and more people in the neighbourhood are turning to drug trafficking and prostitution", he added.

Resident Susana Oliveira, 41, has been out of work since she lost her job as a cook two years ago.

"They want to make us believe that things are getting better in the country, but I don't have anything to feed my children," she said, pulling open the door of her nearly empty fridge.

Source: AFP

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