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Wealth gap widens as cuts hit poorest Spaniards

Number of millionaires soars - as does poverty level

The gap between Spain's rich and poor widened in 2012 as extreme poverty spread and the number of millionaires jumped, experts said yesterday.

The number of very poor people has doubled since the beginning of the economic slump in 2008, according to Catholic church charity Caritas.

More than 6 per cent of Spain's population, or around three million people, lived on €307 (£261) a month or less last year, the organisation's standard definition of poverty.

The top fifth most wealthy people in Spain were seven and a half times richer than the bottom 20 per cent, the largest gap in Europe, Caritas said.

Meanwhile, the number of dollar millionaires in Spain rose to 402,000 last year, up 13 per cent from a year earlier, according to Swiss bank Credit Suisse's report on global wealth this week.

Spain's economy has shrunk by 7.5 per cent since the financial crisis hit in 2008, leaving millions of workers unemployed when the government hacked back spending on health, education and social services and raised taxes.

Caritas said it had aided 1.3 million people last year, almost three times the number it helped four years earlier, when the country's property sector collapsed.

"Our report paints a picture of a more fractured, divided society, where the so-called middle class is disappearing and a minority has access to wealth, goods and services while the majority sits outside," said Caritas Spain general secretary Sebastian Mora.

The Red Cross added that Europeans unable to feed themselves are increasingly seeking services of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Food aid recipients from IFRC affiliates in 22 European countries had increased by 75 per cent to 3.5 million over the past three years.

"Millions of people's lives have been thrown into turmoil over the past five years and there seems to be a gradual degradation," said IFRC secretary-general Bekele Geleta.

"While we fully understand that governments need to save money, we strongly advise against indiscriminate cuts in public health and social welfare, as it may cost more in the long run," Mr Geleta said.

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