Executive summary and conclusions
This new report on social needs in Spain measures, using a broad set of indicators, the degree to which needs related to housing have been met in recent years. The main sources that make it possible are the Living Conditions Survey (LCS), the Household Budget Survey (HBS) and Ministry of Public Works statistics on housing and urban initiatives.
Meeting housing-related social needs occupies an important place in any evaluation of the advances made by a society in terms of its social development. The Spanish Constitution states that all Spaniards have the right to a decent and adequate home and that the public authorities will promote the necessary conditions and will establish the appropriate rules and regulations to guarantee this right. In practice, however, a number of households have difficulties in realising this right in a satisfactory manner. There is a consensus that Spanish society faces three main challenges in providing adequate cover for housing-related needs: access to housing; adequate housing conditions; and a guarantee of energy resources for households.
To assess the achievements and limits in each of the challenges described, an extensive set of indicators is used, among them some that are commonly employed in this field, as well as others that are new and which offer a better vision of the level to which these social needs are met. These new indicators make it possible to explore in depth aspects that are not always present in the analysis of these problems, such as the excessive burden of housing costs, with considerable importance accorded to subjective evaluation, and the lack of household income to meet energy costs.
The use of a broad timespan, with information corresponding to different moments in time, makes it possible to assess how changes in the economic cycle – with data for the boom period prior to the economic recession, the financial crisis itself and subsequent recovery phase – have affected housing-related social needs. The indicators analysed show that for many people, the cost of housing is now a very significant problem, though the figures also reveal that, in general terms, some of the most serious problems associated with housing conditions affect a relatively small proportion of the Spanish population.
In the report, the situation in Spain is also compared with the situation in Europe by means of a selection of indicators representative of each of the three challenges. The information analysed shows that in some of these challenges, the Spanish population is in a more favourable position than people in other countries in the EU with a higher income, though there is a greater prevalence of problems such as the high cost of rented housing in comparison with household income, as well as increased energy poverty problems.
The report looks at the response of public policies to housing-related social needs. Various indicators are proposed that sum up the meeting of these needs by public intervention through various instruments. The information given shows the ineffectiveness of public policies on housing in Spain and the difficulties of providing a response to a rented housing market that is smaller and more expensive than in other countries.
As in other reports in this collection on social needs in Spain produced by the ”la Caixa” Social Observatory, the approach adopted is innovative in terms of the studies on social reality in that information is summarised in a basic system of indicators, allowing the data to speak for itself, with brief, specific comments added to the account in order to aid the interpretation. The reader is now invited to look through this report, to arrive at their own understanding and to compare and contrast what are normally opinions and hypotheses with a fresh and extensive set of objective facts and figures.
A home is a basic social need and a right protected by the Spanish Constitution. It is one of our most important assets and is essential for us to lead satisfactory lives. In this chapter, we look at the extent to which housing-related social needs are met in Spain by analysing three fundamental challenges:
1. Guaranteeing access to housing: In developed countries, every citizen should have a home at all times throughout their life. Being homeless is a factor that has a severe negative impact on personal and social exclusion. It is regarded as an extreme form of poverty that society needs to put an end to. Furthermore, the spending required to access a home should not be prohibitive for families, young people or immigrants.
2. Enjoying a minimum standard of housing conditions: As well as being accessible, homes must be of an adequate condition so that people can lead satisfactory lives. This need is not met if the home lacks basic amenities or conveniences, is in a poor state of repair or is so small that its occupants are forced to live in overcrowded conditions.
3. Guaranteeing the household’s energy resources: If families lack sufficient financial resources to pay for basic energy consumption, their needs for domestic heating, lighting and energy are not met and they fall into energy poverty. This has a negative economic, social and health-related impact.
1. Executive summary
The most important
The cost of housing rose considerably in Spain during the boom years at the start of the century, which made it more difficult to access this fundamental asset. This trend did not reverse until the start of the financial crisis following the property bubble burst, but many families’ incomes fell during this period too, exacerbating the problem of evictions.
The number of years it took to purchase a standard home was very high until 2008. This fell during the early years of the financial crisis before eventually stabilising. However, in the case of the rental market, families have had to make a greater financial sacrifice in recent years. Overall, at least one in five citizens currently spends more than 30% of household income on housing (rent, mortgage, interest, etc.).
Since the recovery from the financial crisis, the rate of late rent or mortgage payments has fallen in recent years. Even though by far the majority of families manage to make these payments, more than half of the population states that the cost of housing is a heavy burden for their households.
Very few homes in Spain lack the basic amenities such as a WC or running water. However, many suffer from problems related to a lack of maintenance, poor design or an inadequate size in relation to needs. Overcrowding, though rare, may have negative consequences in terms of health and social integration, particularly if it goes hand in hand with other housing problems.
Energy poverty increased in Spain during the financial crisis. Prior to 2008, there were very few homes where it was cold in winter or where occupants were unable to pay their gas or electricity bills; nine years later, the rate of energy poverty is significantly higher, despite the recent improvement. It is a problem with many causes: falls in families’ income, homes’ low energy efficiency and the costof energy.
The most important
The housing situation of the Spanish population compared with people in other countries in the EU varies depending on the indicator considered. Few families in Spain suffer from overcrowding in comparison with the European average. In contrast, the cost of renting and the prevalence of late mortgage or rent payments is higher in Spain than in other EU countries.
Almost one in five citizens live in homes that suffer from a maintenance problem or lack of amenities, a proportion similar to the EU average. There are, however, major differences in this respect between the richest and the poorest countries in the EU.
The financial crisis put an end to Spain’s favourable position in terms of energy poverty, as it led to increasing numbers of households that face difficulties in paying utility bills and are unable to adequately heat their homes in cold weather.
1. Housing as a right
Housing is one of the most important social needs and is essential for people to be able to lead a satisfactory life. Access to it should be guaranteed by any developed country, as recognised by the main charters of rights. In addition to guaranteed access to a home for the entire population, this home should also be of a decent standard to enable people to live in an adequate manner. Families also need to be able to meet their basic energy consumption requirements in order to prevent the negative impact that energy poverty has on people’s health and the normal course of their lives.
2. The importance of the home
For many people, the price of housing is a major problem, as they have to spend a considerable percentage of their income on it. In the case of young people, the cost of housing prevents them from moving out of the parental home. Evidence of this is the fact that the number of years it would take a household to purchase a home, assuming that the household were to allocate all its disposable income to this, has stayed stable at around six ever since the height of the financial crisis. Moreover, indicators reveal that, broadly speaking, some of the most severe problems in achieving this right, such as the lack of an indoor bathroom or overcrowding, affect just a small proportion of the Spanish population.
3. The cost of housing
The cost of housing rose sharply in Spain during the boom period at the start of the century, which made accessing this fundamental asset more difficult. The climb in prices continued until 2008, when the financial crisis started. However, the recession also led to falling household incomes, greater difficulty in making agreed debt repayments, and a rise in the number of families evicted for non-payment of their rent or mortgage.
Over a fifth of citizens spend more than 30% of their income on housing. This percentage has remained relatively stable since the time of the most severe slowdown in the property market. In the light of these circumstaces, it is not surprising that a very high proportion of citizens are of the view that the total cost of housing is a heavy burden for their households. In recent years, there has also been a rise in the cost of access to rented accommodation, a trend that is particularly detrimental for young people and immigrant families.
4. Housing problems
Virtually all Spanish households have basic sanitary installations in their homes and so their needs in this respect are met. However, many homes (between 15% and 20%) suffer from structural shortcomings or inadequate maintenance. Overcrowding does not seem to be a particularly prevalent problem, though there are cases in which it goes hand in hand with other failings in the home which, in some areas, can have a negative impact on health and social integration.
5. Energy poverty
Of all the social needs related to housing, one of the least known – though of growing importance in the eyes of the public and in political debate – is energy poverty. Despite the fact that in general this type of poverty is less prevalent in countries with higher per capita incomes, the indicators used to measure the extent of the problem reveal that it affects a not insignificant segment of Spanish households.
The problem came to the fore at the start of the financial crisis, as energy prices rose dramatically while family incomes were falling. The severity and length of the crisis meant that the percentage of the population affected almost doubled, whereas in other countries the indicator remained more stable. Consequently, Spain lost its advantageous position in terms of energy poverty in comparison with the European average, measured according to how difficult people find it to heat their homes. Spain is also notable for its extreme sensitivity to changes in the economic cycle.
The rise in energy poverty needs to be recognised and its causes addressed by more ambitious public policies than those we have today. To achieve this, the three origins of energy poverty must be taken into account: low family income, poor energy efficiency and the high cost of energy. It is important that we combat energy poverty due to its negative economic, social and health-related effects.
The Spanish population is, comparatively, in a better position in terms of space in the home than other countries in the EU with higher incomes, though this assessment is highly conditioned by the indicator in question. Spanish families suffering overcrowding problems are few in number in comparison with the European average.
7. Low investment in public policies
The greater prevalence of some of the problems described may be connected with the limitations of the public housing policies in Spain. Among other public intervention measures concerning access to housing, spending on direct assistance in Spain is considerably lower than that of the EU-28 and, moreover, it fell during the financial crisis, in contrast with what happened in most European countries. These benefits are implemented and financed by autonomous community authorities, whose level of spending was already very low prior to the crisis and whose budgets were severely reduced due to the downturn in tax revenues and the need to meet the growing demand for income-support benefits. It is not surprising, given this low investment of resources, that the poverty- reducing effect of this assistance is far lower in Spain than in most European countries.
8. Subsidised and rented housing
Until tax breaks became widely implemented in the mid-1980s, subsidised housing was the main policy instrument supporting access to housing. One of the lasting effects of the encouragement of home ownership by means of fiscal incentives has been a rented housing market that is smaller and more expensive than in other countries. The disproportionate burden of housing costs in Spanish households that are renting is one of the highest in the European Union despite the fall in prices after the property bubble burst. Nevertheless, as occurs in other countries, subsidised housing can be an effective means to ensure universal access to this enshrined right of a decent home. However, the figures show a continuing fall in subsidised housing, beginning at the start of the crisis and culminating in the historic lows of today.
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TIRADO HERRERO, S., JIMÉNEZ MENESES, L., LÓPEZ FERNÁNDEZ, J.L., PERERO VAN HOVE, E., IRIGOYEN HIDALGO, V.M., & SAVARY, P. (2016): Pobreza, vulnerabilidad y desigualdad energética. Nuevos enfoques de análisis. Asociación de Ciencias Ambientales, Madrid.
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