Two quick highlights of the March 2013 quarterly review:
– employment trends only positive as concerns part-time employment. Otherwise, unemployment affects now one fourth of young EU citizens in working age.
– “Changes to the tax and benefits systems and cuts in public sector wages have led to significant reductions in the level of real household incomes, putting a heavy strain on the living standards of low income households.”
This tragic “fait divers” seems like a sad logical consequence of poverty, seen too often throughout the world: be it in Democratic Republic of Congo with the phenomenon of the children accused of witchcraft who are expelled from their (overstretched) homes, becoming the street children or shegués as portrayed in “Kinshasa Kids” ; or in Europe today… . I can’t help but think it is no coincidence this has happened in Spain at the moment.
The impact of poverty on parenting, and on children, is multilayered. The Joseph Rowntree foundation has devoted a specific report on this, that after a relatively quick read seems excellent.
A brief article by Zahid Shahab Ahmed, an Australia educated academic of Pakistani origin, who is now focusing more on education, peace and security studies, also summarises the main causes and effects of the impact of poverty on parenting, and provides some academic references on the subject.
This article only confirms the fears about growing political radicalisation and anti-Europe feeling (and/or anti-other EU countries) among EU Member States’ populations.
But I think El Pais was definitely wrong about equating current Germany to Hitler’s. Another, maybe paradoxical, parallelism is in my view increasingly more likely to be drawn between on the one hand the conditions of humiliation, economic despair and hopelessness that the populations of Southern European countries are currently facing as a result of the conditions imposed for the financial help they receive; and, on the other, those to which the post-WWI Germany was subject by the winning allies and international community through the different peace treaties that imposed the famous “reparations”. The paradox would be that in this case, it would be Germany who would be fostering a catastrophic socio-economic situation in Southern Europe, through its leading position in favour of economic austerity.
The psychological impact that the crisis is having on the populations of the countries most affected by it, including an increase in the suicides rate, is being translated into the political arena by mistrust in the traditional political system, and by a radicalisation of political ideas.
The combination “economic oppression imposed from the outside”, led, in the case of the post WWI-Germany, to the consequences we all know. Even if the circumstances of the post-1919 Germany and of current Southern Europe are of course different, there seem to be enough fundamental similarities (poverty, despair, external intervention in national economic affairs) to create in my view a fundamental alarm about the political situation in Europe for the coming years.
The same moral, and, especially, “punitive” dimension that the post WWI treaties had towards Germany seems to arise from some of the comments made by members of the German government, about the conditions they are imposing in exchange for the financial help to Southern European countries. This is only likely to further stir a visceral reaction from the populations of the countries affected, and, most of all, a feeling of injustice.
When people feel (and indeed are) engulfed in a tunnel from which there is no visible end (in Spain, economic recovery was recently forecast to no sooner than 2018), they feel they have nothing to lose. It is then easy to be lured by nationalist and even xenophobic discourses, especially if those discourses touch on the much hurt collective self-pride and on the feeling of injustice and indignation.
A scapegoat needs then only be created, as a victim to be immolated to create a sense of restoration of a “fair order”, or to give sense to the absurd harshness of the lives of too many Europeans these days.
Can we afford to continue to wait and see if that victim is designated?
I can’t help but wonder: how are the poorest supposed to “exhaust all domestic options”, in order to be able to access this new mechanism? With which financial, educational, social ressources? Cf for instance the UN report on poverty and access to justice http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/Accesstojustice.aspx , which states that ( I have used bold characters to stress particularly relevant parts):
“Some of the obstacles faced by persons living in poverty, such as the cost of legal advice, administrative fees and other collateral costs, relate directly to their lack of financial resources. Other obstacles, however including lack of access to information and lack of legal recognition are harder to identify and arise out of discrimination against the poorest and most marginalized. People living in poverty and social exclusion come into contact with criminal and administrative controls and sanctions more than any other group in society. In her report the Special Rapporteur refers to the many laws that are inherently biased against persons living in poverty, particularly those which do not recognize or prioritize the abuses they regularly suffer, or have a disproportionately harsh impact on them. When encountering the criminal justice system, people living in poverty are deprived of the means to challenge the conditions of their arrest, remand, trial, conviction, detention and release. In civil and administrative matters where legal aid is not available, persons living in poverty are often denied access to justice in matters involving property, welfare payments, social housing and evictions, and family matters such as child custody.
The limited ability of people living in poverty to access legal and adjudicatory processes and mechanisms is not only a violation of human rights in itself (ICCPR Art. 14), but is also the consequence of numerous other rights violations. The lack of remedies for the negative impacts of social policy in the areas of health, housing, education and social security, or for administrative decisions relating to welfare benefits or asylum proceedings, often results in inability to seek redress in cases of violations of key human rights, such as the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to social security. The generally complex normative framework of most formal legal systems, designed by the highly educated and often invoking technical jargon, often fails to recognize and account for the experiences, capacities and limitations of those outside the mainstream. People living in poverty, who have been denied the equal opportunity to benefit from education services, are thus de facto excluded from having recourse to legal remedies because of violations of their rights to education (ICESCR Art. 13) and information (ICCPR Art. 19).”