Spain not on track to reach development goals

African refugees have routinely found themselves unable to receive medical services, due to austerity measures passed by the Spanish government. [Noborder Network/Flickr]

Spain’s ability to achieve the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals has been assessed by a recent report. EURACTIV’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports.

This weekend, the UN General Assembly adopted the SDG Agenda, which sets the overall global development framework for the next 15 years. It is a plan that is more ambitious than its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), containing 17 goals and 169 sub-goals to be met by all UN-countries, whether they are rich or poor.

Spain is naturally expected to contribute to this collective effort. The country has maintained an active position in the SDG and Financing for Development discussion, but there is a problem: its international position does not necessarily complement its domestic policies.

While insisting on the need to combat inequalities worldwide, at home, hard cuts and austerity policies have been made in important areas such as education and health, increasing the inequality gap and poverty among the Spanish people, according to a report published on Thursday (24 September) by Oxfam Intermon and Unicef in Madrid. The report details the aspects Spain has struggled most with, through analysis of its social, economic and environmental realities, and highlights the consequences of the economic crisis on rights and welfare. The document does not just criticise Spain, but also suggests how the country can improve through a roadmap, which it hopes the winner of the next general election will adopt.

>>Read: Global goals received with rapture in New York – now comes the hard part

The first SDG is the target of ending “poverty in all its forms everywhere”, yet 29.2% of Spaniards were at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2014, some 13.4 million people, among which 3 million were children. This exceeds the European average by 6%. In the years before the crisis, the numbers were already high (19.7% in 2007), but the sharp decline in household income due to unemployment worsened the situation.

Although there has been a slight improvement in 2015, 750,000 families remain without income. In terms of social protection, the numbers also make grim reading. The Spanish system is weak, according to the report, as many basic needs are not guaranteed. Public spending in this area is 25.9% of GDP, below the European average. Since 2010, social spending has been reduced, employment policies have been ineffective, and social services that depend on the autonomous communities vary greatly.

Given that Spain has committed itself to a European target of reducing poverty risk by 1.4 million people by 2020, and that the numbers increased by 2.3 million between 2008 and 2014, Madrid faces the huge task of helping 3.7 million people in less than five years. To fulfill its commitment, Spain must establish a system that guarantees a minimum income for every household, and must adopt a state pact for childhood (something that UNICEF had advocated previously) that will give budgetary priority to children to prevent them falling into poverty or social exclusion.

>>Read: Germany seeks leading role in implementing SDGs

The third SDG is the target of ensuring “healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages”, but the guarantee of a right to health care has suffered major setbacks in Spain.  Since the approval of Royal Decree 16/2012 in August 2012, around 750,000 people, every immigrant in an “irregular administrative situation” except children and pregnant women, have lost their right to free health care, except in emergency cases. The latter proviso has not always been fulfilled. The measure has been described as unjust by various international organisations, as well as unnecessarily increasing the amount of emergency cases. In 2015, the Spanish government announced it would return the right to illegal immigrants, but as yet has not finalised how.

To achieve its goals, Spain must provide free universal health care to anyone, regardless of their administrative situation. Repealing the decree of August 2012 would be a step in the right direction. Health care systems must also be properly financed in order to reverse the trend of cuts and medical personnel layoffs. Public spending on the private sector should also be reduced.

>>Read: Is the EU ready to walk the talk on sustainable development?

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” is the fourth SDG 4. Spain’s early school leaving rate has reduced in recent years, but 2014’s rate of 21.9% is still above the 2020 goal of 15%. Public spending on education has reduced. and the 2013 figure of 4.31% of GDP was below the rest of Europe. There are also other shortcomings, such as school performance, which is also lower than the European average.

Madrid will have to ensure that by 2030 the dropout rate is below 10%. To achieve this, appropriate sources will have to be allocated to help students complete their education.

According to the report, the crisis impacted on gender equality, and as achieve gender equality and empowering all women and girls is the fifth SDG, Spain will have to make further efforts to achieve this target. Time spent doing housework is still unbalanced, women spend an average of 4.29 hours a day on it, while men only spend 2.32. In general, gender equality and inclusion in public life has progressed, but sexist cultural patterns remain. The most concerning factor is violence against women, which according to the report, is “the most brutal expression of inequality”. In 2014, there were 136,742 cases of domestic abuse and 54 women were murdered.

Achieving the goal by 2030 depends on gender having no influence over an individual’s wage. As an intermediate stepping stone, Spain should have reduced the pay gap to 15% from 19.3% by 2020. Measures intended to promote equality and eliminate prejudices must also be extended.

The report also outlines Spain’s situation as regards; inequality reduction within and among countries, ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, combatting climate change and strengthening sustainable development.

  • United Nations Full list of Sustainable Development Goals

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