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Alejandro Navas García, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

The surprising tranquility of the street

The author explains that the low popular reaction to the hardship of many families is due in part to misleading figures and the actions of the state and private organizations.

Wed, 04 Dec 2013 11:27:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The economic crisis is hitting our country hard: unemployment, indebtedness, recession. Few aspects of national life invite optimism and discouragement takes possession of the spirits.

How is it that in view of this status there are no street riots? This is the question we are repeatedly asked by foreigners, when they visit us or when they receive us in their countries. For much less than that, the banlieus of the big French cities are burning and support for populist leaders is growing in other countries.

The explanation is not particularly mysterious. On the one hand, macroeconomic figures do not accurately reflect reality. The underground Economics thrives, even if it is not easy to measure its extent with precision. Of course, this correction to leave of the official data would only disguise a picture that would still be very worrying.

On the other hand, financial aid the welfare state. It is more modest than that of central and northern European countries, but it allows millions of citizens to enjoy benefits never seen before. Many immigrants who have lost their employment are still here for this reason.

The State has made a great effort in recent years to attend to the needy, but the best Ministry of Social Affairs in our country is the home. The unemployed, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, alcoholics and drug addicts, who, beyond what official institutions and private charities can do, find support above all in the family. The family is our greatest social asset. It is logical, therefore, that the October CIS barometer shows that the family is the most important aspect of life for Spaniards (9.68, on a scale of 0 to 10).

People state in surveys that the family is the main factor they associate with a happy life. The centrality of the family stands out in a particular way in Spanish society. Undoubtedly, there are symptoms of crisis -decrease and delay in the marriage rate, fall in the birth rate, increase in breakups, domestic violence-, but the family formed by father, mother and children at position continues to be the predominant model . This is also the subject family that can most effectively help its members in need (without ignoring the growing importance of grandparents).

For fill in this tour of welfare entities, we must mention the Church. Caritas has already published the 2012 report , with impressive numbers: 70,000 volunteers, together with 4,250 contracted ones, work in 6,000 parish Caritas. Almost two million residents in our country have benefited from various aids, to which must be added another three million foreigners in 200 countries. Although the economic aspect of their work is not the main one, there are the 276 million euros spent (70% comes from private contributions).

Christian charity is directed to people, one by one, with names and surnames. Beyond the aseptic figures of an annual report , I will give a name to this charitable work: the parish of Carmen, of the Marianists in Zaragoza, which I visited recently. It was my guide Antonio, who has just taken over the coordination of their social action. An industrial engineer, he is nearing retirement at Opel, where he has become head of engineering. He coordinates 280 volunteers and 13 contractors who carry out a multifaceted work: a canteen for 180 people a day; housing for the rehabilitation of alcoholics - eight tenants at the moment; a shelter for transients and homeless people - as opposed to the municipal shelter, which requires a daily shower, here a weekly shower is enough; a kindergarten for 41 children; two shelters for women; thirteen homes for evicted families; a closet, which this year has delivered 1,800 sets of clothes to men and 1,800 sets of clothes to women and 1,800 sets of clothes to men and 1,800 sets of clothes to women.800 lots of clothes to men and 1,350 to women; non-perishable food and vouchers for 400 euros per month to buy food at Mercadona, for those families who do not dare to go to the parish canteen; training courses to qualify people without employment; home care for families with special needs. In addition, a team roams the streets in search of homeless people to offer them attendance. In this neighborhood, those who live on the street do so because they want to. The direct action of the parish reaches more than 2,500 people. To this should be added partnership with public organizations and with NGOs and private companies: civil and ecclesiastical, public and private actors, leaving aside absurd ideological debates, simply get down to work to help in a coordinated manner.

This tremendous economic crisis brings out the best in so many people and families, who are effectively mobilized in the service of those most in need. Fortunately, the discouragement I mentioned at the beginning does not have the last word.