The last few weeks have been full of discussions about poverty, livelihoods, survival and contestation.
What we are experiencing now is a consequence of several economic adjustments at a global level – the subprime and the troikathe covid-19 pandemic and now the conflict in Europe, not to go any further – reinforced by national policies. From what we know, the world has always become more unequal following each of these crises and consequent austerity measures.
According to INE, we are a country with more than two million people at risk of poverty (16.4%). If we discount social transfers, the figure rises to 43.3% (37% in 1994). This means that almost half of the population lives on a certain threshold of fragility and, let the populists be disillusioned, nobody likes to be in that limbo.
In view of the numbers, it can be said that Portugal is a country that maintains a population contingent structurally at risk, with precarious living conditions or close to that.
In this scenario, the generalized rise in prices was the earthquake that was needed to call into question the fragile social contract of Portuguese society.
It is said that inflation hits families in different ways, but what does that mean?
In the interim note of “Portugal, Balanço Social 2022”, by SBE Nova, we can find some of these answers. Twenty percent of the poorest individuals have an expenditure greater than their income. Food products have a weight of 19.2% in the expenditure of the poorest families and 11% in the richest. As for income, the budget weight of the poorest families is 6.9 times higher than that of rich families. Expenditure on health, gas and electricity, gasoline/diesel and public transport is also higher in the poorest families.
Clearly, the expenditure profile of the poorest families is centered on essential consumption, and what have these families been experiencing lately? Record increases in housing rents, rises in interest rates and corresponding increase in the provision of mortgage loans, increase in fuel prices, increases in communications, increase in the number of homeless people, Lisbon residents dying in overcrowded houses and price increases of essential foodstuffs (according to DECO, a basket of essential foodstuffs increased by 24.52% from 2022 to 2023).
What these families do not experience, but see are the record profits of energy companies, banks, retail, and even the State has a surplus.
That is, there is a collective testimony that wealth exists, it is poorly distributed.
According to the OECD, in a 2019 study, in Portugal it takes 125 years for a family to get out of poverty. There is total immobility in Portuguese society, which puts the rights and guarantees of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic at home.
For many decades, the political system and public policies faced the issues of poverty and the affected population with an avant-garde, paternalistic look, accustomed as it is to institutional situationism. The alarm signals of this conservative structure are already evident: increased abstention, social anomie, populism, consanguinity in public offices, generalized distrust.
Then, in addition, there is a defensive reaction to the appearance of new actors. They are soon dubbed inorganic movements. This attribution results fundamentally from the distance between who can intervene in the public sphere in this country and the lived reality. Those at the bottom of the country’s economic pyramid have emotional ties and solidarity networks that are unknown to the general public, but completely organic for their constituents.
That is why we must have renewed hope when grassroots movements like the fair lifeavailable to be made public – as on the 25th of February, to refresh the game of actors that weave collective decisions.
We are not used to the base of the pyramid being made public, in a country where even social representation is a privilege. Hopefully that changes soon.