It will soon be a year since the Government decreed the state of alarm and more than 46 million Spaniards were confined to our homes, except for those that were essential to care for the sick and for the State not to stop. A situation that we had never experienced and that we will always remember.
During those first months, the government told us that this situation would not last long, perhaps until the fall. That we would all come out of this unfortunate experience strengthened. And even that our economy would recover everything lost in the last quarter of 2020, to enter strongly in 2021.
They threw slogans of unity at us in the face of adversity. Of solidarity, of hope, of confidence in the public powers that worked to get us out of this serious situation. Those messages told us that this would be resolved soon.
But this is not what some of us anticipated. And we warn you, even at the risk of appearing ominous.
Not so much because we did not believe that the infections could remit, but because the impact they were producing was such confinements and restrictions in the country’s productive fabric and in the real economy, that is to say in the self-employed and small companies, it was difficult for us to think of a speedy recovery from the devastating effects produced by the pandemic.
It was enough to look around us and listen to the more than 100,000 freelancers who were collapsing the ATA switchboard. Many of them unable to hold back their tears.
Almost twelve months have passed since the state of alarm and not only have we not improved, we accumulate losses upon losses. Small businesses, freelancers and companies add to a fall of up to 70% in income the depletion of our savings.
That is to say, of the liquidity that we barely maintained to withstand the crisis.
And above all this (and as a consequence) there is the feeling of helplessness for not knowing what our future will be. Freelancers are going, in many cases, from despair in 2020 to absolute pessimism in 2021.
Pessimism for everything that the public authorities continue to tell us. Either about the end of contagions (which we do not see clear) or about the recovery of the economy.
Pessimism faced with the doubt that at some point the hotel industry, leisure, culture and commerce (and so on until adding more than a million businesses) can open normally and regain the path of income.
Pessimism because the measures that the Government has put into practice have barely alleviated the serious situation of the self-employed and companies.
Pessimism because many have borrowed from ICO credits and at some point they will have to pay them back, despite the fact that sales are still low.
Pessimism because the savings with which families and businesses were supported are over.
Pessimism because nobody listens to us and we feel abandoned.
Pessimism because we no longer put the horizon of recovery even in 2021, but we pray that it does not extend beyond 2022.
And this situation is what is causing the other pandemic. The one that we will have to endure for a long time after the Covid-19 infections remit.
And I say pandemic, because the economic crisis that the coronavirus is causing is also spread from business to business and is affecting the entire planet globally.
The X-ray of the current situation (higher unemployment rate, GDP with falls greater than those of neighboring countries, public deficit, indebtedness of companies that affects the financial system, lower private consumption, absence of tourists) can be seen more clearly in the symptoms shown by our self-employed: cascade of closures, loss of customers, defaults, debts and inability to maintain templates. Especially in the sectors where the restrictions have affected the most.
This is the current situation and one that may continue for many months to come. The Government has approved palliative measures for the self-employed, bandages that barely cover the wounds. The autonomous communities and municipalities have also made an effort, with the resources available to them. But all that it is not enough to stop the effects of this economic pandemic.
The Government is taking time to articulate direct aid to support the productive fabric, such as those launched many months ago by the vast majority of European countries. The Netherlands, for example, has been paying € 2,500 a month to its hoteliers and France, up to € 10,000 per month. Spain is the country that has invested the least money in the recovery of its businesses.
But direct aid must go to all businesses affected by this pandemic crisis, as other neighboring states have done, and not just those who are now solvent.
Also to all those who suffered closures and cuts of schedules by administrative order and who are now on the brink of ruin.
It is not possible, nor would it be fair, to leave anyone in the lurch.
Aid not only for those who applied for an ICO loan, but also for those who had to endure their income drops with their own savings because they could not or did not let them get into debt.
Preferential aid for those who have been restricted for the longest time, because it is these businesses that have suffered the worst of the crisis.
Aid for those who had to request an ERTE and wonder how they are going to keep the entire workforce if they have not recovered sales or there are signs that their situation will improve.
And aid for those who have been forced to close and are covered in debt, especially with the Treasury and Social Security.
Look for effective vaccines, not home remedies, for this economic pandemic. Many do not seem to understand that most of the products and services produced in this country are distributed by freelancers and small businesses. If they disappear or are hit by this crisis, the damage will not only be for them, but for the entire economy.
It would also affect taxes and contributions that the State enters. And of course, it would be a drama for employment.
My mouth hurts from repeating that the self-employed are the backbone of the economy. And this other pandemic can cause severe sclerosis.
*** Lorenzo Amor Acedo is president of the National Federation of Associations of Self-Employed Workers (ATA).