“Well, I did my first degree in Audiovisual Communication, so I guess I kind of coached myself not to have a strong accent,” Rocío explains when asked as to why she only speak with the softest of Andalusian twangs, “then afterwards I did a post-graduate teaching certificate, and then my Masters in European Studies.” It takes a moment to register; yet the sad truth is that hers is an all too common story.
“I was unemployed in Spain for two years, which is just too long,” says the 28-year-old originally from Seville, “I wasn’t just looking for jobs in my city, I was applying for jobs all over Spain, Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, but I was barely even offered an interview. I went eight months without even receiving one phone call in relation to all my applications, and after that I decided that I had to leave.” The pain is etched all over her face.
Indeed, the number of people leaving Spain is increasing dramatically. The Insituto Nacional de Estadística recently released figures showing that over 40,000 left the country in the first six months of 2012; a 44-percent increase on that time in 2011. Many of them are seeking pastures new in the United Kingdom, where the Spanish population has increased by a third in the last five years, and the volume of National Insurance Number applications received by the Department for Work and Pensions by Spaniards over the last 12 months was second only to those made by Pakistani’s as the highest number of foreign national requests.
“It was a difficult decision to leave, of course it was,” she adds. “I have my friends, my family, and my boyfriend. He’s lucky. He works in an industry that hasn’t really been affected by the crisis, and hasn’t come to England with me. But sometimes you to make decisions and sacrifices for yourself, for your career, for your life. Two years of being unemployed is just demoralizing, I really wondered at times ‘Rocío, what are you doing with your life?’ So, I came here to improve my English, and I’m looking for a job as a waitress, barmaid, housekeeping…anything really, and then in the future we’ll see if I’m able to go back to Spain or if I will stay here and get my English to a level where I can work in marketing or communications … Who knows what the future will bring.”
This uncertainty is a reality now facing many, as those young and old are finding it ever-harder to find a job in a country where 52.3% of 16-24 year-olds are unemployed, and overall unemployment has risen to over one-in-four people.
Her friend Ferran joins us. He is 22 and graduated with a degree in Human Resources Management last June. “There’s just no opportunities for young people,” he says explaining the decision to swap his native Barcelona for Leeds in September. “I mean, you can work as a becario (intern) but you get paid next to nothing, and in a big city it doesn’t even cover the rent. I’m earning more as a barman here than I would be back home interning in a big company. Here I can improve my English, earn some money and then start looking for a more permanent job. I want to stay here for a long time.” I try to put myself in his shoes. We’re the same age, have similar interests, and although I have lived abroad for a period before, it was always going to be a temporary measure as part of my degree before I returned to the security of Blighty.
They both scoff when I suggest that Britain too has high levels of unemployment, “For you maybe seven or eight percent [unemployment level] is high, we have twenty five percent, and it’s worse for younger people like me,” Ferran retorts. By this time I have realized it is impossible to even contemplate being in the same, or a similar situation to what is being called la generación perdida (or, lost generation) by some people in Spain. These are highly educated, skilled people moving out of necessity.
Portobello in London is an area that has traditionally had a small, sociable Spanish community. There are a couple of Spanish delicatessens, selling chorizo, vino and more. There is the Spanish School Instituto Vicente Cañada Blanch, from which a stone’s throw away is La Bodega tapas bar. Proprietor Antonio Carrera has been in England for 45 years and used to struggle to find Spanish-speaking staff; not anymore. “I probably get around 25-30 CV’s a week minimum, and at least half of them are normally from Spaniards,” he tells me, with a tone of sorrow that reflects the gravity of the situation his homeland now finds itself in. “I only have room for about 10 staff, and yet I keep getting these applications from people with degrees, and masters in difficult subjects looking for what they can get – waiter, chef, washing dishes, even cleaning the restaurant. They are just forced to do anything to be able to go on with their lives, and it really is sad.”
Back in Leeds the sentiment is shared, “It’s tough for Spain because there is a whole generation of people without work, and they are leaving,” Ferran explains. “I came here with my best friend, and we both have friends who have gone to Germany, France, and other cities in the UK like London and Dublin. We’re trying to be as English as we can; we pay our taxes, and do our shopping in the supermarket, even if the food is not the best,” he laughs. “And don’t even get me started on the weather,” as we jovially look out of the window into the thick, grey clouds, something which in retrospect is a seemingly pertinent metaphor for the economic situation these two young professionals have left behind in Spain.
Suddenly the laughter stops. “But you can’t blame us, right?” Ferran says solemnly, “there’s just no future for us in Spain at all.”