Family values soften impact of Spain's 22% unemployment

MADRID'S working-class suburb of Orcasitas is a product of Spain's industrial boom of the 1950s and 1960s. It looks newer because 1980s apartment blocks, neat, brick-built, replaced the shacks the colonisers erected when they settled the open land on the city's southern outskirts. Piped water came only in 1970.

Migrants flocked to Orcasitas from the parched feudal estates of Andalucia to land steady jobs in the nearby Peugeot car plant, Marconi electronics factory and the glassworks. They organised trade unions and a neighbourhood association in the teeth of Franco's repression. Later they took on the democratic government and fought off attempts to decamp them to make way for speculative luxury housing.

Today the plants are silent. Unemployment here far exceeds Spain's national average of 22 per cent, which is the highest in Europe, and still rising. In a community once the heart of Madrid's industrial "red belt", those with one breadwinner in a family that may comprise five adults count themselves lucky.

"Spain was a rural society until 20 years ago. The country has moved from a pre-industrial to a post-industrial society within a generation," says Fernando Caballero, director of Orcasitas's education centre for the unemployed, was set up five years ago.

"The shock of being out of work makes people feel passive and defeatist. They are no longer," says Mr Caballero, using an expression typical of Spaniards who participated in the transformation of their world, "protagonists of their epoch."

They cope by resorting to old customs, such as falling back on the family, which is increasingly fulfilling its traditional role as protective umbrella against shortcomings in the welfare system, and the only effective way to get work. Surveys show that the family is what Spaniards value above God, country, work, friends, leisure or anything else.

Carlos, 21, helps with a community radio station, Radio Free Orcasitas that broadcasts from the education centre, awaiting call-up for community service in lieu of military service. Last year a six-month contract delivering pizzas was not renewed, and he expects only ever to find temporary work. "I live at home with my two brothers, aged 20 and 23. None of us really works. My father is retired and we live on his pension." How many of his friends had jobs? He thought for a moment. "None of them." And they all live at home? "Yes."

Three women in their twenties waiting for their class in technical design all said they lived with their parents who were retired or out of work, and that they managed on grants and their parents' pension or dole. Did they hope to have their own place one day? Laughter and shaking of heads. "Out of the question."

The education centre receives government and EU funds. It contains workshops where 500 local jobless learn manual skills such as plumbing, gas installation, soldering and carpentry.

Pedro, 38, in a group learning to build fitted kitchens, was laid off two years ago as warehouse supervisor at a department store. "People say I'm too old to get another job. Fortunately my wife works, so my 19- year-old daughter can keep studying." He plans to set up a kitchen-fitting business with two others when he finishes the course, but adds that red tape meant he would have to do it informally, as part of the "grey economy".

This prompts a heated discussion of "chapuza" - literally, "botched work" - shorthand for the submerged sector that is estimated to account for 25 per cent of Spain's gross domestic product. Chapuza complements the family as a cushion againstprolonged unemployment.

Santiago, 30, who lives with his mother, has been unemployed for five years. But, he says to general laughter, he has never been out of work. "There's always something, a contract for a couple of days here and there, sometimes by the hour, building work, loading, seasonal work." Payment in cash, no insurance, no questions asked. It sounds like a return to the insecurity his forebears left behind in Andalucia. He becomes serious, nods. "We are the peons of the city."

A law passed last year to create more jobs produced only exploitative short-term "contratos basura" (rubbish contracts) and less job security, the kitchen-fitters say. How do they feel? "Swindled," says Bernardo, 45, a former machine tool operator. "Every morning at 8am I feel depressed," says Pedro, "when my wife goes to work and my daughters to school, and I'm left at home feeling useless."

And social life? Do they get out much? "Social life?" Santiago is astounded. "Of course. This is Spain." But even in a society renowned for its street life, where it is not hard to have fun on little money, the unemployed spend much of their time at home. The basic dole of 40,000 pesetas per month (pounds 200), supplemented within a family by pension, redundancy pay, student grant and travel passes, offers modest protection from poverty but little margin for luxury.

For the army of youngsters who live at home - some 70 per cent of Spaniards between 18 and 29 - the cost is prolonged parental dependence and what Mr Caballero calls a postponement of adulthood. "A generation is growing up who will never reach proper maturity. What's more there'll be an increase of shoddy work because of chapuza. I worry that this will make us decline into mediocrity."

The government admits prospects are bleak for those out of work for more than a year, those over 40, and for the disproportionate number of unemployed women. Alberto Elordi, director of the government's National Employment Institute (Inem), says: "We did in 15 years what took the rest of Europe 40. We lost 2 million jobs in the countryside and 2 million women joined the labour market."

Inem paid pounds 90bn in subsidies last year, the most in Europe, to ease the effects of unemployment. But no one seems to know how to create jobs. Last month's upturn in jobless coincided with a modest economic recovery. Millions of Spaniards will be calling upon the resources of their tolerant families and their improvisational skills for some time to come.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam