Poverty on The Rock

"Poverty in Gibraltar? Nobody’s poor here!" you’ll hear most locals say. Well, depends where you draw the so-called ‘poverty line’. So, are there some that fall below it? Action on Poverty says there are, and individuals’ circumstances can vary from household to household...


By Richard Cartwright

“I spent some time in the Philippines in 1997,” Action on Poverty spokesman Felix Alvarez tells me, “where a family was selling cups, saucers and any household items they got lay their hands on, right there on the pavement to raise 30 dollars a month to provide dialysis treatment for a family member. 30 dollars is just about what they earned a month from their employment! Back in Gib we managed to raise £5,000 for them to continue with the treatment and of course we don’t have that sort of situation in Gibraltar. But poverty is relative as with many other things and it’s not surprising to hear of families and individuals with nothing in the fridge.”

Over many years, Felix has been meeting individuals who are seeking help and experiencing problems having a hard time battling against bureaucracy and out-of-date systems which bring to light many injustices. “The thing is there are different colours of poverty – it doesn’t just jump off the page initially. You have old ladies living in private properties who need works done to their homes which cost a lot. On the other hand, much better-off families are living in government housing where all works are done for them so already there, there is a discrepancy. So clearly I think we need a system of means testing to sort out who can afford to pay for their works whilst government could assist in some way, to help out those in real need who may be living in private accommodation.”

Some of those resources can be directed towards those in real need.

We’ve recently heard of changes to the Community Care payments coming on stream, where it’s felt a number of individuals are receiving payments who on retirement are already entitled to ‘fat’ pensions where there isn’t a real need for the extra supplementary payment from Community Care. Some of those resources therefore, can be directed towards those in real need.

A CIA World Fact Book claims hunger in 21st century Gibraltar is no longer a problem. Over the past 30 years we’ve become self-sufficient with a strong vibrant economy benefitting from an extensive shipping trade and bunkering, offshore banking, gaming and tourism. There’s been plentiful foreign investment, and income from military presence has dwindled to six or seven percent from 60 percent in the mid 80s, so you could say we’re well off. Furthermore it’s claimed we are the 4th or is it 5th richest nation in the world! Although the report claims ‘hunger’ – for want of a better word – has decreased to near dissolution, poverty here is not a major concerning issue. There seems to be no data for those living below the dreaded ‘poverty line’ on the Rock, but as Felix Alvarez claims, as far as Gibraltar’s concerned not all money struggles at first sight come to the fore and poverty lines vary from country to country.

Despite meetings with the Gibraltar Government not enough is being done to better the lot of those in real need, Action on Poverty says:“We’ve seen same-sex civil partnerships and even marriages legislation successfully being enacted, and now the abortion issue is also being debated, yet nothing on our antiquated Social Security system which has remained very basic and out of date with not much help coming from the department as no details are forthcoming when questions are asked by concerned individuals, so it all needs reforming.” Its true there’s what we might call, ‘serious poverty’ in the third world but it extends to the west also, the United States and the UK included.

Action for Poverty has been reaching out to all political parties in the hope more is done to help Gibraltar’s underprivileged who – believe it or not – are out there as the group has been finding out meeting people seeking help. During the annual Three King’s Cavalcade, presents are still distributed to kids who, even these days, don’t get much (if anything at all) during the festive season. Nazareth House is up and running still and there are others who visit priests seeking help. “The thing is, poverty in Gib is hidden.” Felix says, “The whole system really needs to change in order to make things more equal. The reality is there are too many on the poverty line being ignored. We look the other way and think of Gibraltar as an idyllic paradise.” The group claims politicians can’t be allowed to dodge these important issues anymore; we’re demonstrating a poor and weak democracy not helped by sections of local media who receive financial support from government and don’t interview hard enough when they should be pushing those politicians further on these subjects that concern and affect us all, OAPs, our families’ children and grandchildren.

We’ve become self-sufficient with a strong vibrant economy.

Occupation Activist, Felix Alvarez came back to Gib in the late 70s. Whilst in the UK he worked for the London Borough of Lambeth as a Social Worker. Soon after his arrival on the Rock he formed the Gibraltar Gay Rights group rebranded later to become the ERG (Equality Rights Group) encompassing and promoting Human Rights principles and equality for all, setting out to engage local political parties. Not intending to get involved – but as he came across more and more injustices – took the plunge and stood for election with the ILF (Independent Liberal Forum) becoming its Deputy Leader. Next came Action for Poverty and here they are today campaigning and pushing for a guaranteed dignified living for all, hoping to establish a ‘poverty line’ benchmark no one should fall under by identifying the problems and not allowing politicians to get away with, what is in effect, ignoring these really important issues.

“The thing is, poverty in Gib is hidden.”

We’re seen as a generous and affluent society: excellent at helping others, not just readily assisting local charities but also offering a helping hand financially and in other ways to a number of communities in far away, distant lands. Here, records show the real jobless are low in numbers, there are generous benefits for the community derived from Government coffers too, so perhaps for those in power it may just be a question of digging a little deeper and changing tack with a view to reform systems (as has just been announced regarding Community Care) when it comes to helping those in real need who are genuinely seeking assistance, whether it be financially or materially.

Yes, ‘Action on Poverty’ may sound a bit drastic in a place like well-off Gibraltar, but there it is. Do we know everything about who’s in serious need behind those closed doors, even in our tiny community?