With his permanent job in construction, Hugo Ramirez never thought he’d have to ask for food aid one day. But record inflation has prompted this Madrilenian to take the plunge: impossible without “making ends meet”.
“We see prices rising every week, even on basic products… We can’t take it anymore,” snaps this 44-year-old father of a family in front of fruit and vegetable stalls at the foot of a vast brick building in the south of Madrid.
Every Saturday, this Venezuelan bricklayer comes to collect food from an association created in the working-class neighborhood of Aluche during the pandemic to help residents in need.
“I earn 1,200 euros a month and my wife 600 euros” for a part-time domestic worker. “But we have three children” and “once the 800 euro rent and 300 euro of sundry expenses are paid, we don’t have much left”, explains Hugo Ramirez.
Like him, thousands of them queue every weekend in different parts of the Spanish capital to get food. A phenomenon known as “hunger queues”, fueled in recent months by the dizzying increase in inflation.
– Insufficient wages –
“Every week we see new needy families arriving, especially after the war in Ukraine”, which has aggravated the increase in prices, Raul Calzado, a volunteer with the Aluche (Rama) Mutual Aid Network, told AFP.
The association, which distributes seven tons of food a week, thanks in particular to the support of the Food Bank, now helps 350 families. But as things are going, “we’ll have 400 by the end of the year,” Calzado predicts.
Behind him, a dozen volunteers are busy with a room filled with crates of pasta, canned food, and diapers. Outside, others tend to the families lining the building, many of them immigrants.
“Some beneficiaries have no income. But we also have more and more retirees with small pensions or people who work but whose salary is insufficient” in the face of “galloping inflation”, explains Elena Bermejo, vice president of the association.
Food prices rose 15.4 percent year-on-year in October, the worst figure in nearly 30 years, according to the National Statistics Institute. That of sugar even jumped by 42.8% and that of vegetables by 25.7%.
Faced with this dynamic, in recent months the Spanish left-wing government has multiplied measures to support purchasing power. But they are considered insufficient by the associations.
“For some families, even buying a liter of olive oil or a kilo of lentils has become difficult,” Elena Bermejo insists.
– Less donations –
Even for associations the situation is complicated. “With inflation, we are seeing a decline in donations”, people who have “less money”, underlines Luis Miguel Rupérez, spokesman for the Spanish Federation of Food Banks.
A cause for concern for the organization, which helps more than 186,000 people in the Madrid region and 1.35 million in total in Spain, almost the equivalent of a city like Barcelona.
“The problem is that as prices go up, we can buy less food,” Rupérez says. Since January, the Federation has collected 125,000 tons of food against 131,000 tons in the same period last year.
According to a study published earlier this year by the University of Barcelona, one in seven Spanish households are faced with “food insecurity”, due to a lack of access to healthy and nutritious products. A situation that few see improving in the short term in a country grappling with chronic insecurity.
The impoverishment “tends to worsen”, assures Raul Calzado, who says he sees mothers “stop buying feminine hygiene products to be able to feed their children”.
“I hope it will get better” but “I fear it won’t,” agrees, bag of food in hand, Hugo Ramirez. Drawing a relative parallel to his native Venezuela, which has been plagued by rampant inflation for a decade: “everything is expensive, expensive, expensive…”