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“Growing poverty makes social rights meaningless and turns the welfare state into a lost dream”.


The Law Faculties at Deusto, Comillas and Ramon Llull (ESADE-RLU) and Loyola Andalusia held the conference “Law and poverty” to prompt multidisciplinary legal reflection on the challenges that the growing poverty in our society raises for law. The opening address was delivered by the Rector of Comillas, Julio L. Martínez, SJ, and the Director General of ESADE-RLU, Eugenia Bieto. The conference was set within the UNIJES and Aristos Campus Mundus collaboration framework.

“Law has been able to do very little to solve widespread poverty in recent years. Little can it do when markets are imposing the rules.  However, we cannot turn a blind eye and certainly not say “there is no law”, affirmed Augusto Hortal, Professor Emeritus of Comillas, in the opening address of the UNIJES conference on “Law and poverty”.  “Growing poverty makes social rights meaningless and turns the welfare state into a lost dream”, he stated. 

Law and poverty

The conference afforded the opportunity to share studies on law and poverty, prepared from the perspective of different disciplines by various research groups, all of which included a legal analysis.  Talks in the parallel sessions covered issues such as the social welfare state, public policies and services; economic law and the tax system, the justice system and ethical and legal values and social exclusion.  In addition to the professors from the four Law faculties, the Fernando Pombo Foundation was represented by Carmen Pombo and Cuartrecasas Gonçalves Pereira by Santiago Milans del Bosch.

The closing session was led by Santiago Muñoz Machado, Chair in Administrative Law at the Complutense University. He delivered a retrospective on poverty and its legislative framework over the last five centuries.

“In a society like ours, which depends on salary earners, the unemployed and their families are poor”, stated Hortal in the opening session.  Poverty not only affects individuals but also families, which are the best unit of analysis to understand poverty and protect oneself from it.  3.8 million homes in Spain have employment, consumption, housing or education-related problems, stated Hortal, and one of every three young people between 16 and 34 are school-leavers and unemployed.  “Law ends up being a variable that depends on economic coverage”, he pointed out. 

Social rights

“Healthcare, social protection or support for dependents are social goods that should be distributed to those who need them. They should not be market goods, at least at the most basic levels”, affirmed Hortal.  However, those universally available social goods require funding.  Money doesn’t grow on trees, it comes from our taxes, he stated.  Nonetheless, “Spanish lawmakers have the deeply rooted fault of making wonderful laws but which are not backed by financial reports.  When social rights don’t have financial support, they are just empty words”.  

In his address, the Rector had words of remembrance for Ignacio Ellacuría, whose name inevitably appears when the subject of law and poverty comes up.  “From a spiritual experience that had left its mark on his life and a commitment to El Salvador’s social reality, the way they understood the university has affected many other people’s lives”, he affirmed.  “The awareness that people in our world don’t have decent adequate living conditions, and that this has to do, in part, with socio-economic and cultural conditions that become structural factors obliges us, as Jesuit universities, to assume this as part of our tasks. The preferential option for the poor is not ideological but Christian, which is born from the very heart of the Gospel” stated the Rector.  “We need to overcome the university’s temptation to lock itself in an ivory tower.  We cannot achieve a high intellectual level if we are isolated from social reality”, he concluded.  

In Bieto’s opinion,”improving the world” is the UNIJES centres’ reason for being. “We are all born with a common mission and roots, everything that we do is to improve society and contribute to building a fairer, more prosperous and egalitarian world by giving students a comprehensive background; through research serving society, outreach and social debate”, explained Bieto.  

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