The Spanish state embraces a huge number of ethnic and cultural groups. As the country is
divided into regions, people often identify themselves by their homelands. There are many
regional groups with different cultural traditions and languages, such as the Basques,
Catalans, and Galicians.
Virtually all Spanish are Roman Catholics. Until 1978 this was the official religion of
Spain, but there is now religious freedom, and the country is becoming more secular. The
Church still maintains a special status and has a high income. A lot of this money is
donated to the poorest members of the community and charities.
Castillian is the official language of Spain but many other languages and
dialects are spoken across the country, of which Basque, Galician, and Catalan are the
most dominant. In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, road signs appear in the local
tongue alongside the official Castillian. Spanish is still the third most widely spoken
language in the world, after English and Mandarin. Three hundred million people in 21
countries speak Spanish as their first language, partly due to the Spanish colonisation of
The population of Spain has been increasing gradually
throughout the century, but recently there has been a steep decline in the birth rate,
with population growth in 1999 at approximately 0.1 per cent. The transformation of Spain
from an agricultural to an industrial nation has been reflected in the family structure:
traditional extended families have been replaced by a more mobile nuclear unit. The number
of single-parent families has risen by ten per cent, and there is a distinct decline in
the number of marriages. Divorce is still fairly new to Spain. It wasnt legalised
until 1981, so the divorce statistics are considerably lower than in other European
Public health-care in Spain still lags behind other
European Union countries, although it has improved considerably since Francos death.
The welfare system has still not been implemented evenly across Spain and there is poor
distribution of health-care. Resources and expenditure on public health is minimal.
Contagious diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis and leprosy still affect poorer areas of
Spain. There is a big discrepancy between facilities in the cities and those available in
One of Spains biggest social problems is the
increasing number of homeless people. There are now an estimated 273,000 living on the
streets or in hostels while 15 per cent of housing remains empty. Unemployment and family
breakdown are the two main contributory factors to homelessness in Spain. The Government
does not allocate enough funds to make adequate provision for the whole population and
consequently low-income families suffer first. For them, renting or buying a house is an
expensive option. Council houses are not being built at a sufficient rate to combat the
problem, and basic social benefits are not enough to cover family expenses.
Most homeless people in Spain are men (with an average age
of 42). In Madrid there are many younger drug addicts who sleep rough, and an increasing
number of women are among them.
The Church has founded 129 institutions and hostels to
offer shelter to the homeless. Day centres also provide washing and cooking facilities. A
national homeless day was announced in Spain on 18 January 1998 with the slogan a
shelter by right. Fundraisers and charities aim to give long-term help to the
homeless, offering health-care, social development, and help to improve their chances of
Some homeless people manage to support themselves by
selling the popular street magazine La Luz de la Farola (Streetlight).