Social Situation in Portugal
The repressive nature of the authoritarian regime that ruled Portugal between 1926 and 1974 hindered scientific research on the subject of poverty for a long time. Later, the concept of “poverty ways of life” (Almeida et al. 1992; Capucha 2005) was developed as a key theoretical tool for understanding the diversity and heterogeneity of poverty in Portuguese society. “Poverty ways of life” refer to the complex interaction of factors that shape how poverty is lived by those affected by it – such as spatial context, consumption patterns, family organisation models, subjective perception of one’s social standing, life strategies and representations of one’s past and future and people’s lifestyles – a concept inspired in Bourdieu’s works.
It relates to the active relation of persons with their objective living conditions. Poverty in Portugal may encompass marginal groups like drug addicts or ex-prisoners, classical risk groups like lone parents, poor pensioners or people with disabilities, ethnical groups and immigrants, but also the “working poor” – low-skilled low pay workers in precarious jobs, and even the “new poor” resulting from the impoverishment of former lower middle class families. Capucha (2012) suggests that poverty seems to be decreasing among immigrants and peasants, possibly by sectoral and demographic effects, but for the working poor, the new poor and the elderly, poverty risk seems to have sharply risen since the beginning of the crisis.
Previous research results
As of September 2012, the Portuguese economy had registered eight consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth rates, going back to the last quarter of 2010. Rising interest rates on Portuguese public debt have meant that the Portuguese Government was forced to apply for a financial “rescue package” from the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission, who in turn called for severe austerity measures to be implemented in Portugal: steep increases on regular taxation over salaries and consumption; creation of extraordinary taxes on salaries, and public expenditure reduction, which translated mostly in cuts in the salaries in the public sector, in public health services, education, pensions and other social security transfers – with anti-poverty measures being severely affected.
A first trend is closely tied to rampant unemployment. As nearly 50% of the registered unemployed were not entitled to any unemployment benefit, a strong poverty growth is most likely to result.
The second trend is related to the steep increase in indirect taxes and welfare cuts. Portugal has the lowest median net equivalent income in the ‘old’ EU-15 of 8.410€/year in 2011, just about 75% of Greece’s, the closest country in this regard. Furthermore, 15% of population were already very close to or below to threshold of poverty. Hence the twin pressure of cuts in social security transfers and increasing taxes on consumption – such as VAT – cannot but push those who were previously merely at risk of it into poverty. One result of these trends can already be seen in the forceful return of emigration, a traditional phenomenon in Portuguese society that had been greatly reduced during the 1990s and 2000s.