Could you cope if your house halved in value and seven months of your income went towards tax? Three women just like you explain the tough truth about life in the Eurozone.
Think Spain and your mind meanders back to family holidays, misspent teenage weekends in Ibiza and pans of paella sluiced down with bottles of Rioja. What is difficult to imagine is a country – the Eurozone’s fourth largest in both size and economy – crippled with mind-twisting debt, 25% unemployment and its people on the edge of full-scale revolt.
Last month, prime minister Mariano Rajoy performed a spectacular policy U-turn and introduced €65bn of cuts just seven months after coming into power on the back of an anti-austerity message. In response, protestors filled the streets of Madrid only to be met with rubber bullets. But as prices shoot skywards, quality of life plummets. Even the occasional luxuries working women in Britain can still run to – manicures, meals out, the odd mini-break – are beyond most women in Spain.
“What upsets me most is the mood of the population,” explains Helena Rodríguez, 32, a web manager from Madrid who now checks the price of everything she buys, and only shops in H&M and Primark. “Spain has always been such a positive country, but now it feels like we’re drowning in tears as we watch a political class full of thieves help the banks and the rich, but ignore the needs of everyday people.”
And those needs are basic. Food prices have rocketed. “It was recently announced that 20% of Spanish children suffer from malnutrition, which gives you an idea of the impact,” says Rodríguez. “It’s a complete embarrassment – the Spanish Euro crisis has changed me from someone proud of my country to someone who’s ashamed.”
Yet it’s not just Spain under a fiscal cosh. Greece, Ireland and Portugal have had to be bailed out to avoid defaulting on their spiralling debts. Almost a quarter of all Greeks are out of work and for under 25s, the figure is over 50%. Ireland’s unemployment has risen to its highest rate since the crisis began, while Portugal’s PM took the controversial step of urging unemployed youth to seek work in Portuguese-speaking countries such as Brazil or Angola.
The UK has been told to expect 10 more years of austerity. So what should we be steeled for? Stylist spoke to women from the Eurozone battling the deepest global recession of a generation…
“We lost €200,000 overnight”
Naomi O’Connor, product manager, 31, from Killorglin, Ireland
“I moved to Dublin in 2003 when the city was in the middle of the Celtic Tiger boom [between 1995 and 2007]. Life was fantastic – everyone had lots of money, shopped and went out all the time. I bought a house with my then-boyfriend in 2005 for €400,000 (£315,100). It was so easy to get a mortgage. We used our credit cards to buy lots of lovely furniture and went on lavish holidays. Then house prices plummeted, and we’re now in serious negative equity – it’s only worth €200,000, (£157,000), if that. It’s sickening to think we have 30 years of colossal payments on something worth less than half what we paid for it.
Life in Dublin really changed. Everyone was broke and depressed, trying to pay bills and put food on the table – going out was not an option. Luckily we still had jobs, but my family were less fortunate; my father is a painting contractor and three years ago, he couldn’t get a single day’s work for six months. My mother had her part-time job but my father had to spend all his savings.
I couldn’t take the dullness and depressing air in Dublin anymore so in April last year, I decided to move back home. Thankfully I got a transfer with my job and I eventually let the house, although the rent doesn’t cover the mortgage. Killorglin is so much cheaper and even though unemployment is still rife, there’s a huge community spirit and atmosphere here."
“My husband had to move abroad"
Andreia Moiteiro Carvalho Valente, Spa manager, 33, Lisbon
“My husband Joao left Portugal in 2009 in search of better prospects for us and our two small children, leaving us behind. He’s now CFO of a water company in Angola; it’s the only way to make things work these days. He left for the same reasons everyone does in Portugal: unemployment is increasing every day and salaries are ridiculously low if you have a family to support. He’s been in Angola for three years now and comes home every two months. It’s not easy, but we believe it’s necessary to create a better future for us and our children.
Like most Portuguese, the crisis has had a big impact on our household income. We’ve always been careful, but now we have to think twice before buying anything. Nearly every day I pass by a business that’s closed. It’s not just the small shops – restaurants, supermarkets, banks and big companies are all closing. It’s very disturbing.
Taxes have gone up in a crazy way. It’s unbelievable what we have to pay; there seems to be a new tax or increase every day. It works out that seven months of the working year go towards tax but nothing’s improving. There’s still a big hole in the public finances and it makes you wonder: why the hell do we pay so much?
The general feeling in Portugal is that people are resigned to the situation. We’re all unhappy with the way things are going and we complain a lot, but then don’t do anything to try to improve it. However, I feel that things will change in a few months. And the riots and problems of other European cities will be seen here in Lisbon too.”
Elena Kanaki, photographer and interior designer, 38, from Athens
“Being a creative person in Greece at the moment is very difficult. Athens has changed so much that four months ago I decided to move to Milies, just over 300km (186 miles) away. The cost of living has doubled – you now even have to pay tax on your electricity bill – and the atmosphere was so tense, I had to leave.
I’ve been a photographer for 20 years but wages have gone down so much, I’m worried about the future. I should have many years ahead of me in my career but now I fear not being able to earn what I need to survive.
I used to earn €600 (£472) a day for shooting for fashion clients, now I earn €100 (£78). My friends have seen their wages cut by almost half. I used to eat out at least once a week. Now everyone stays indoors; if you socialise, you do it at home – the bars and restaurants of Athens are emptier than ever before.
I used to get a manicure or massage without thinking – now every decision has to be weighed up. I’ve even cut back on the food I buy. A loaf of bread that used to cost 50¢ (40p) now costs 80¢ (64p). A sandwich that was €4 (£3.15) is now €6 (£4.72). That’s another reason I moved to the countryside: You can live more cheaply and grow things yourself.
I can’t afford to buy a place in the country so I’m in limbo. Things change here so quickly – politicians make cuts, raise taxes but won’t say how long this is all going to last."
Words: Amy Grier and Julia Maile
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