The social cost of Covid-19 is high—very high indeed. This is so much the case that we are not even capable of imagining the real extent of the worldwide social crisis that is only just starting to take its toll. The pandemic has shown to what extent in just twelve months the poverty, inequalities and social exclusion that already existed have been hugely aggravated. There are more persons at risk of falling into poverty, and the persons who were already living in poverty are today poorer than before [1]1 — Cruz, I. Navarro-Varas, L. and Porce, S. (2020), Una aproximació als efectes socioeconòmics de la Covid-19 a la metròpoli de Barcelona. Estimacions desigualtat social i pobresa. Barcelona Institute of Regional and Metropolitan Studies. . This is true both here in Catalonia and in any other place around the world.

If the achievement of SDG 1 ‘To end poverty’ was already an ambitious challenge before the pandemic, this is even more the case now because the impact of the coronavirus is hindering the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals [2]2 — United Nations (2020), Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 – SDG. . The bodies that make up the Board of Social Service Organisations are nevertheless convinced that the application of the roadmap marked out by the 2030 Agenda is the only possible solution that will enable us to overcome the social crisis generated by Covid-19. This is a major challenge that will test the abilities of all of us —including public administrations, companies, social bodies and private citizens— but it is now more urgent than ever before to ensure that no-one gets left behind. The social service organisations sector is absolutely convinced of this necessity, and intends to play an active part in dealing with this challenge.

In the first and second waves of the pandemic alone, 800,000 persons in Catalonia asked for help from social service bodies to cover basic needs such as food and lodging, according to the estimates of the Board of Social Service Organisations [3]3 — Taula Tercer Sector (2021), 800.000 persones han requerit ajuda de les entitats del tercer sector per l’emergència social de la COVID-19 durant el 2020. Available online on the tercersector.cat website. . Specifically, requests for help for these two needs have tripled and doubled respectively, and for 30% of the persons attended to this was the first time that they had approached a social organisation, a statistic that only too clearly reveals the extent of the emergency.

The Social Service Sector is and will remain the main network of social protection for thousands of persons living in vulnerable conditions and demands that its voice and experience be listened to and taken into account

The crisis is being dealt with thanks to the hard work and commitment to public service of all the Catalan social service bodies, their permanent staff and volunteers, as represented by the Board of Social Service Organisations of Catalonia. These constitute 34 federations and umbrella organisations bringing together over 3,000 non-profit bodies that have deep roots in their local areas, defending social rights and fighting to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities. If we examine their founding motives, mission and vision, we can see that their highest common denominator is working towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are associations, foundations, social initiative cooperatives and social insertion companies that attend to, assist and provide support to persons undergoing or facing a risk of exclusion at all stages of life (children and teenagers, young people, adults and elderly persons) and in all sectors (poverty and exclusion, work, health, leisure, disabilities, mental health, homelessness, drug addiction, the romani community, and many others).

The social services sector has been, is and will continue to be the main network for the social protection of thousands of persons living in vulnerable conditions, and this is why it demands that its voice and its expertise should be heard and taken into account when designing the social policies intended to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and to provide new solutions to the new needs, whether it be those of today or those that will arise in the future. The social service organisations nevertheless also aspire to be key participants in the drive to achieve the 2030 Agenda SDGs. One of the characteristics of the sector is precisely its capacity to generate all kinds of partnerships between different stakeholders with the aim of multiplying the effect of the social service organisations’ activities on people in general and society as a whole.

In fact, the social service sector interprets SDG 17 ‘Partnership for the goals’ as a strategic commitment and uses this method for the achievement of its objectives. By doing so, it links its causes and objectives to 90,000 professionals (75% of whom are women), 360,000 volunteers, 55,000 association members and 560,000 donors, in addition to public administrations independently of their territorial scope, and thousands of companies of all kinds (micro, small, medium-sized and large).

Poverty in the world

Current World Bank data confirm that it will not be possible to eradicate poverty by the year 2030 [5]5 — The World Bank (2020), Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2020. . As indicated above, even before the Covid-19 outbreak we were already far from this target. Forecasts show that extreme poverty in the world will increase for the first time in over 20 years during the course of 2021 as a result of the consequences of the of the pandemic, aggravated by the problems of conflicts and of climate change.

It has been calculated that between 88 and 115 million persons more will fall into extreme poverty, and that the total number will therefore be between 703 and 729 million people. The health crisis will result in an increase in poverty that will be particularly disproportionate in those groups who were vulnerable because of job losses by persons with few qualifications and low salaries. This trend already existed, but has accelerated due to Covid-19. The latest research suggests, with almost total certainty, that the effects of the crisis will make themselves felt in the majority of countries until the year 2030. In this context, the objectives of eradicating extreme poverty throughout the world and of reducing at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty is unattainable if rapid, significant and substantial measures are not adopted.

Poverty in Catalonia

The social service sector considers inequalities as a human rights issue that must go beyond a lack of income and resources to guarantee that people have a sustainable means of making a living. Why is SDG 10 ‘Reducing inequalities’ so important for social service organisations? The reason is very simple: because in Catalonia we have a form of poverty that is chronic, structural and deeply-embedded and marked by widening inequalities.

The attention of the social service sector focuses on the persons who cannot live with dignity. These persons regularly relapse into what is known as intermittent poverty, from which they temporarily escape but are unable to break the cycle of marginality because they never attain sufficient stability in economic and employment terms to emerge from their social limbo. In this respect, the statistics are clear:

Nearly 20% of Catalan men and women are poor (19.5%, or over a million and a half people) [6]6 — IDESCAT (Statistical Institute of Catalonia, 2020), Enquesta de condicions de vida. Report published on 21 July 2020. Available online on the website idescat.cat. . Worst of all is that, in the last few years, this rate of poverty risk has scarcely changed, which shows just how deeply-rooted this poverty is. 8% of this sector of the population, equivalent to half a million persons, live in a situation of extreme poverty [7]7 — IDESCAT (Statistical Institute of Catalonia, 2020), Enquesta de condicions de vida. Report published on 21 July 2020. Available online on the website idescat.cat. . The worst affected social groups are: children (one Catalan child in every three is poor), women (the feminisation of poverty is a growing phenomenon), persons who have immigrated (half of whom are at risk of marginalisation) and, by type of household, single-parent families (nearly half of whom also live in poverty) [8]8 — IDESCAT (Statistical Institute of Catalonia, 2020), Enquesta de condicions de vida. Report published on 21 July 2020. Available online on the website idescat.cat. .

20% of the Catalan population is poor. In recent years, the rate of risk of poverty has remained stable at around this level, showing just how deeply rooted the problem is

Statistics may be just numbers, but behind each number there is a person and a family who in their day-to-day existence do not live but merely survive. They have to choose between paying for a roof over their heads or paying for their food, between paying their energy bills or buying clothes — we could continue with a long list of rhetorical choices that a society like ours should not need to enumerate. All of the above goes to show that our society continues to be riddled with inequalities, unjust and unfair, which pushes social service organisations to continue to advance towards SDG 10, which, from a universalist perspective acts as an umbrella for other SDGs closely related to the work carried out by the social service organisations: zero hunger, health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean accessible energy, decent work and economic growth, and sustainable cities and communities.

The proposals of the Catalan social service sector to attain the SDGs

SDG 1 ‘No poverty’. To strengthen the network of protection and social rights is essential if we wish to advance towards this goal, insisting on three fundamental aspects: employment, housing and a guaranteed minimum income. The first two of these goals will be expanded upon below, but for the moment we will focus on two rights that ensure these minimum essential needs: universal basic income and minimum essential income. Although these are useful tools for reducing structural poverty, they are not getting through to the persons likely to benefit from them. 150,000 persons currently receive the universal basic income, according to the data of the Catalan Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Families [9]9 — Departament de Treball, Afers Socials i Famílies de la Generalitat de Catalunya (2020), Principals dades sobre la implementació de la Renda Garantida de Ciutadania. Available online at treballiaferssocials.gencat.cat. . This figure only coves 10% of the population that lives beneath the poverty line. In the case of the minimum essential income, this benefit is paid to 560,000 persons (including 41,000 in Catalonia), far below the Spanish Government’s intention of distributing it to 2.3 million persons throughout Spain, according to the figures of the Spanish Ministry of Inclusion and Social Security. For this reason, it is an urgent priority to ensure the appropriate coordination with the Spanish Government to guarantee compatibility between Spain’s Minimum Essential Income and the Universal Basic Income paid in Catalonia, and to ensure access to all the persons who need them, in addition to simplifying the procedures and improving response times, given that the processing of applications is slow and cumbersome.

SDG 2 ‘Zero hunger’. The pandemic has tripled the requests for help addressed to the social service entities to cover the basic need for food. Covid-19 has worsened living conditions for persons who were already living in poverty, but has also added many other persons with new profiles whom the social service entities had never had to deal with before. These are persons who have found themselves with no income overnight, because they have lost their jobs or businesses and who, even if they had some savings, found themselves without any financial buffer.

SDG 3 ‘Good health and well-being’. According to a United Nations study, one person in every four will suffer from some type of mental disturbance during their lives [10]10 — World Health Organization (2001). The World Health Report 2001: Mental Disorders affect one in four people. Available online at who.int. . The pandemic is leading to an increase in this type of illness. Social isolation and the reduction of personal contacts has particularly affected groups that have been touched by difficult experiences. The death of a relative or of a close friend, together with uncertainty and marginalisation in terms of employment, have increased disorders related to anxiety and depression. The social service entities ask for mental health to be a central plank in the response to the pandemic and call for planned strategies with mechanisms to support people and appropriate resources to manage the increased pressures on people’s mental health caused by Covid-19.

SDG 5 ‘Gender equality’. The relationship between poverty and women is direct: women are more exposed and undergo a greater risk of suffering from impoverishment by the simple fact of being women. The vulnerability is further multiplied if, in addition, a woman has a disability or a mental disorder, is of immigrant origin or of gipsy origin, or belongs to the LGBTIQ+ community. The gender gap is obvious particularly in the workplace, since women either have jobs that are more precarious, or earn lower salaries (the salary gap is 22%) or work part-time, with as a consequence income that is exponentially lower. In 2019, Spain had the second highest rate of female unemployment in the European Union [11]11 — Alston, P. United Nations (2020), Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. . The social service sector proposes the strengthening of gender equality policies and calls for this perspective to be integrated into the designing, implementation and evaluation of social policies so as to guarantee effective equality between women and men.

SDG 7 ‘Affordable and clean energy’. The efforts of the social service sector place great stress on reducing energy insecurity, increasing resilience in terms of access to energy and reducing the need for social assistance initiatives. 8% of the Catalan population cannot maintain an adequate temperature in their homes [12]12 — IDESCAT (Statistical Institute of Catalonia, 2020), Enquesta de condicions de vida. Report published on 21 July 2020. Available online on the website idescat.cat. . The social service entities have for many years been committed to fighting against energy poverty and how to ensure the right of all to affordable energy, especially for persons in vulnerable conditions. Energy poverty is one of the aspects of poverty that concerns us most, is particularly worrying because it is today a right that has been undermined and which requires a joint, comprehensive and coordinated response from all the stakeholders involved. Causes that have further aggravated this reality include an increase in energy bills by an average of over 40% in the last decade, and the state of the housing stock, over 50% of which is not energy efficient. It is essential to ensure compliance with Law No. 24/2015 which proposes urgent measures to deal with the emergency in terms of housing and energy poverty so as to protect the most vulnerable households, and the need to empower people so that they can claim and be made aware of their energy rights. The Board of Social Service Organisations is co-organising the Catalan Energy Poverty Congress so as to promote the joint work carried out by the various different representatives.

SDG 8 ‘Decent work and economic growth’. The current situation with regard to this SDG is unsustainable because, prior to the pandemic, we combined a poor quality labour market with highly precarious conditions characterised by low salaries and instability of employment. At the present time, having work is no guarantee that you will not be poor, and in Catalonia there are nearly 500,000 poor workers [13]13 — Comissions Obreres (2019). Una aproximació a la pobresa en el treball. . This reality has been aggravated by the context of the pandemic, which has a direct effect on health and economic growth, which has consequently reduced people’s prosperity levels exponentially. Precarious salaries are a byword for instability in all other aspects of life. For this reason, it is indispensable to create new public policies that can provide an urgent solution to the need to incorporate into the labour market groups with the greatest vulnerability (women, young people, those over 45 years old, persons with disabilities, newly-arrived persons, the gipsy community, etc.) and who have been most affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. It should be remembered that employment is the main route to social inclusion and that, for the above persons, employment opportunities are also the key to autonomy, self-esteem and social relationships.

SDG 11 ‘Sustainable cities and communities’. According to United Nations estimates, 5 billion people will live in cities by 2030. The sustainability of this SDG is based on numerous questions, but the main issue is housing, which represents the highest expense for persons and families because of exorbitant prices and the lack of social housing, which does not even reach 2% of the total, a far cry from the 15% which is the minimum required to ensure social cohesion in a community and corresponds to the average European standard. This implies that we are in a housing emergency that, in the Barcelona area alone, excludes one million persons [14]14 — FOESSA-Càritas Catalunya (2019), Informe sobre exclusió i desenvolupament social a Catalunya. . Thousands of citizens experience the insecurity of not knowing whether they will be evicted. In many cases dwellings are not adequate and in others numerous persons live in a single room, so that it is not by accident that the pandemic has caused most victims among persons who live in the most vulnerable districts of the large cities of the planet, where rates of mortality have been the highest and the impact of SDG 3 ‘Good health and well-being’, both in the physical and in the emotional aspect, is in fact causing very high levels of anguish and stress. The stock of public housing in Catalonia needs to be increased to ensure access to a decent, affordable and accessible dwelling as a fundamental measure to guarantee minimum conditions of personal life and autonomy.

Conclusions

In summary, our structural vision in relationship to SDG 1 ‘No poverty’ is predominantly marked by the current fragility of precarious employment with low salaries, combined with unaffordable housing prices. We can explain this with a particularly graphic example. The average price of rented accommodation in Barcelona is over 900 euros per month, and in the rest of Catalonia a little over 700 euros per month [15]15 — Departament de Territori i Sostenibilitat (2021), Mercat de lloguer d’habitatges. Available online at territori.gencat.cat. . If we take these prices as examples, how it is possible for a family with a low income or an unemployed adult to afford such a large expense? Moreover, how can a person live with a salary of 1,000 euros or a minimum salary of 950 euros whose only income is in the form of a salary or who receives public assistance in the form of an allowance? Logically, it is impossible to buy food (SDG 2 – ‘Zero hunger’) and to pay the bills for basic supplied (SDG 7 – ‘Affordable and clean energy’).

In this case, we can see that the Sustainable Development Goals to be attained are very closely inter-related, which obliges us to change organisational models linked to the last century in terms of all the organisations that act and decide on these subjects at the highest level, so as to manage these realities with the commitment of interdisciplinary teams and a global strategic vision, while abandoning approaches that are still only too frequently based on a simple model of coordination for information purposes only between airtight compartments, sometimes more concerned by achieving their own specific objectives rather than by contributing their specialised skills for global ends that are truly capable of rectifying such structural deficiencies in today’s world.

The stock of public housing in Catalonia needs to be increased to ensure access to a decent, affordable and accessible dwelling as a fundamental measure to guarantee minimum conditions of personal life and autonomy

All our efforts in the social service sector place the individual person at the centre of our projects and our socially responsible initiatives, incorporating the other two fundamental axes common to the Sustainable Development Goals: sustainability and prosperity.

The decisions that are taken now will favour the acceleration or, on the contrary, the postponement of the attainment of the SDGs that are so important for our societies. In all probability, the current situation will cause us all to reflect in depth on the possible courses we can adopt so as not to have to face situations and scenarios even more complex than those facing us in the near future [16]16 — Díaz, Adolf (2021), La guía práctica de los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible Agenda 2030. Círculo Rojo Editorial. .

  • References

    1 —

    Cruz, I. Navarro-Varas, L. and Porce, S. (2020), Una aproximació als efectes socioeconòmics de la Covid-19 a la metròpoli de Barcelona. Estimacions desigualtat social i pobresa. Barcelona Institute of Regional and Metropolitan Studies.

    2 —

    United Nations (2020), Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 – SDG.

    3 —

    Taula Tercer Sector (2021), 800.000 persones han requerit ajuda de les entitats del tercer sector per l’emergència social de la COVID-19 durant el 2020. Available online on the tercersector.cat website.

    4 —

    Taula Tercer Sector (2021), 800.000 persones han requerit ajuda de les entitats del tercer sector per l’emergència social de la COVID-19 durant el 2020. Available online on the tercersector.cat website.

    5 —

    The World Bank (2020), Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals 2020.

    6 —

    IDESCAT (Statistical Institute of Catalonia, 2020), Enquesta de condicions de vida. Report published on 21 July 2020. Available online on the website idescat.cat.

    7 —

    IDESCAT (Statistical Institute of Catalonia, 2020), Enquesta de condicions de vida. Report published on 21 July 2020. Available online on the website idescat.cat.

    8 —

    IDESCAT (Statistical Institute of Catalonia, 2020), Enquesta de condicions de vida. Report published on 21 July 2020. Available online on the website idescat.cat.

    9 —

    Departament de Treball, Afers Socials i Famílies de la Generalitat de Catalunya (2020), Principals dades sobre la implementació de la Renda Garantida de Ciutadania. Available online at treballiaferssocials.gencat.cat.

    10 —

    World Health Organization (2001). The World Health Report 2001: Mental Disorders affect one in four people. Available online at who.int.

    11 —

    Alston, P. United Nations (2020), Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights.

    12 —

    IDESCAT (Statistical Institute of Catalonia, 2020), Enquesta de condicions de vida. Report published on 21 July 2020. Available online on the website idescat.cat.

    13 —

    Comissions Obreres (2019). Una aproximació a la pobresa en el treball.

    14 —

    FOESSA-Càritas Catalunya (2019), Informe sobre exclusió i desenvolupament social a Catalunya.

    15 —

    Departament de Territori i Sostenibilitat (2021), Mercat de lloguer d’habitatges. Available online at territori.gencat.cat.

    16 —

    Díaz, Adolf (2021), La guía práctica de los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible Agenda 2030. Círculo Rojo Editorial.

Francina Alsina

Francina Alsina Canudas

Francina Alsina Canudas is president of the Catalan Board of Entities of the Third Social Sector. She is a graphologist and expert in judicial and graphopsychological calligraphy. In 1989 she started volunteering at Arrels Fundació, where she is still involed today, and in 2005 she began her collaboration with the Yamuna Foundation. In 2005 she was elected as the coordinator of the Barcelona unit of the Catalan Federation of Social Volunteering, a position she held until 2010, when she was elected president of the organization until 2018. In 2017 she was elected chair of the Third Sector Board and in 2020 was re-elected.


Adolf Díaz

Adolf Díaz Capón

Adolf Díaz Capón is a researcher in the International Network of Promoters for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a member of the Advisory Board of the Third Sector Observatory and president of the Family Association of the Fort Pius Institute. In the field of volunteering, he is the reference person of the Catalan Table of entities of the Third Social Sector for the promotion of the 2030 Agenda. He is the local coordinator of the humanitarian network Red Cross in El Prat del Llobregat and Viladecans, and he is also the person of reference of the Forum of the 7 Principles of the Red Cross in Catalonia. He recently published the book La guía práctica de los Objetivos de Desarrollo Sostenible Agenda 2030.