Elvira Montadas pushes her neighbour in a wheelchair along a badly paved sidewalk, past crumbling buildings, in return for some pocket change.
This is one of the odd jobs allowing her to survive in Spain’s poorest neighbourhood — Los Pajaritos in Seville, the country’s fourth largest city famous for its Alcazar palace.
A divorced mother of two teenage daughters, 49-year-old Montadas has not held a steady job for years. So she helps her disabled neighbour, cleans homes or irons clothes whenever she can to earn some cash.
If she runs low on food, she turns to charities like the Red Cross.
“My life right now is screwed,” Montadas told AFP as she pushed the wheelchair through Los Pajaritos, her long hair tied in a ponytail.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Friday applauded data that showed Spain’s economic activity is on the verge of recovering pre-crisis levels and the jobless rate has dropped to 17.2 percent, its lowest level in eight years.
But in Los Pajaritos, a neighbourhood of around 21,000 residents located just a few kilometres (miles) from Seville landmarks such as the Giralda tower, the good economic data contrasts sharply with the reality of daily life.
The average annual income per household in Los Pajaritos is 12,307 euros ($14,349). By comparison in Spain’s richest neighbourhood, El Viso in Madrid, it is 113,001 euros.
The unemployment rate in the area is 56 percent.
“My daughters are well fed, we have never gone hungry, but that is because I am knocking on doors and thank God the doors open, but I am tired of calling on people all day,” Montadas said at her sparsely decorated apartment.
Many of the homes in the neighbourhood are illegally hooked up to the electricity network.
Montadas receives a monthly state unemployment benefit of 312 euros.
She spends 110 euros on the mortgage on her apartment, 40 euros for the building’s common expenses, another 40 euros for insurance and ten euros for her mobile phone. The rest goes towards food, leaving four euros a day for the family’s remaining expenses.
“I don’t have enough to even start to live, but I make a living,” she said.
– ‘I am the pillar’ –
Montadas said she uses a lot of peas and chickpeas. Sometimes there is meat which she gets from charities or neighbours.
Fish is “a luxury” as are yoghurts which her daughters, Andrea, 18, and Maria Luisa, 14, frequently ask for, she added. Last Christmas there were no gifts.
“They don’t understand, how shoes or a dress are a huge expense,” said Montadas, her eyes tearing up.
“I feel bad, I get down, but what can I do, if I break down, the house will come down because I am the pillar.”
The family’s problems are mounting. Maria Luisa suffers from developmental delays while Andrea, the oldest daughter, has dropped out of high school.
“She says she wants to live,” said Montadas.
Maria Jose Herranz, a coordinator with a charity called Candelaria which distributes aid in the neighbourhood, said she believes the unemployment rate in Los Pajaritos is much higher than the official rate and “easily” stands at around 80 percent.
“There are households where nobody is working, there are many single parent homes, grandmothers who have to look after their grandchildren because their children are in jail or addicted to drugs,” she said.
– ‘Crisis was a tsunami’ –
The neighbourhood was badly affected by the heroin epidemic that swept Spain in the 1980s.
Already in decline, it suffered another blow when Spain was hit by an economic crisis in 2008 in part due to the collapse of a decade-long property bubble.
That left construction workers, many of them in the southern region of Andalucia, out of job.
“The crisis was like a tsunami that swept away those who were already struggling,” said Mariano Perez de Ayala, the director of the Seville branch of Caritas, a global charity run by the Catholic Church.
About 70 percent of Spanish households have not noticed the benefits of Spain’s economic recovery, according to a Caritas study.
“There are areas of Los Pajaritos that you can’t imagine are in a neighbourhood in the European Union,” said Perez de Ayala.
“We have a system in which the boom times correct inequality very slowly.”
When asked about Spain’s economic recovery, Montadas laughs.
“Yes, of course, everything is great,” she said.