Page last updated at 08:46 GMT, Thursday, 24 June 2010 09:46 UK

Spanish families stick together in hard times

By Pascale Harter
BBC News, Catalonia

Pedro supplements the family income by breeding goats and rabbits

Pedro Bautista Cuevos is in trouble. The 24-year-old, who lives in the countryside near Barcelona, has to find a job before his unemployment benefit runs out later this month.

"I've been unemployed for two years. I worked in construction for eight years but they sacked me, like a lot of people, because there wasn't any more work," he said.

"First I lost my job, then my uncle lost his job, then my sister lost her job, then my mum too. We were all unemployed."

Mr Bautista Cuevos is part of the generation that has been hardest hit in Spain. As many as 42% of 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed.

They have emerged as the group most disadvantaged in the current economic climate and many of them depend on their families for shelter and support.

Grandmother's pension

Six out of seven members of Mr Bautista Cuevos' family are unemployed. The main source of income is from his uncle, the only member of the family to have found full time work again.

There is some money from the occasional cleaning jobs his mother gets - but she says there is not much work and the clients she has have reduced her wages.

The family used to rely on Mr Bautista Cuevos' unemployment benefit, but that is running out in the next few weeks.

"When my mum can't make ends meet at the end of the month I need to find her the money. And if I can't find the money my sister will have to leave her studies. And there are months when we can't make it," he said.

Mr Bautista Cuevos' grandmother receives a state pension that would have contributed to the family's income but instead it is used to pay off the debt from his mother's failed bar business.

Pedro is learning new skills in the hope of increasing his job prospects

The family live in the countryside, with no electricity or telephone.

The little extra money Mr Bautista Cuevos makes from selling the goats, chickens and rabbits he fattens up is already accounted for. The family relies on a generator for power and it is expensive to transport the petrol up the mountain.

With the government freezing pensions and cutting public sector pay, for how much longer can Spanish parents and grandparents keep subsidising their unemployed offspring?

Dolors Llobet, the spokeswoman in Catalonia for the CCOO, or Workers Commission, Spain's biggest union, says the unemployed are very vulnerable.

"When they're no longer eligible for [unemployment benefit] then the government gives them 420 euros (£345, $514) a month, but only for six months. Clearly you can't live on that."

If the day comes when your family can't help you - Spain will explode

"In Spain, pensioners are using their pensions to help their unemployed children get through this period. Freezing pensions will squeeze that support. And it's the family network that's keeping the country afloat."

In order to learn some new skills Mr Bautista Cuevos has been taking part in a training programme at the Gaudi Institute. It is a government funded project to make people more employable.


One man is teaching the course on how to use cranes. "We try and make it as real as possible so they encounter the same situations they'd find at work," he says.

"Remember, they're getting a qualification recognised by the ministry of industry, so it's another string to their bow."

The training exercise is also an opportunity for young men like Mr Bautista Cuevos to meet other young people going through the same experience.

"You can disconnect from your problems a bit, laugh and talk - forget everything. It's better than sitting at home, worrying about not being able to find a job," Pedro says.

"He's not the only person who comes here with these problems," said Paco, adding that often it is a place to share a joke and have a laugh.

"They have to laugh or they'd be crying," he said. "Happiness is the only thing we've got left."

"Thanks to families Spain is still OK", Pedro says, "But if the day comes when your family can't help you - Spain will explode."

Pascale Harter's report on Spanish unemployment for Assignment will be broadcast on Thursday 24th June at 0905, 1205, 1505 and 2005 BST on the BBC World Service.

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