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When we started this project in September 2019, we couldn’t imagine how much the world was about to change. Today, with the economy at a standstill and even the most optimistic forecasts predicting one of the worst economic crises of all time, it is more relevant than ever to tell the stories of Guiomar, Rui, Alice and António. Women and men with a life of work behind them, who the labour market has tossed aside.

“Losing your job and stopping working from one day to the next is a considerable blow to various aspects of your social and personal life. Unemployment affects nearly everything: your socioeconomic situation and social wellbeing, your daily routine and quality of life, emotional stability, mental and physical health. It is like falling into a bottomless pit – it drags the individual, their family and their world down with them. A pit from which it is difficult to fully escape, whole and unscathed.”

This was how the researcher Renato Miguel do Carmo presented the project “The employment crisis and the Welfare State in Portugal: deterring drivers of social vulnerability and inequality” and invited Bagabaga Studios, within which Divergente operates - to tell life stories that reflected this. We selected the interviewees, decided on the narrative thread, designed the website, and exposed some significant numbers behind these stories. This work cost €30,000, partially financed with funds from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.

Referring to the data from the Portuguese Employment and Professional Training Institute (IEFP, acronym in Portuguese), for Portugal, we looked at the number of people registered as unemployed (310,482) and compared this with the number of people registered as without paid work at the same institute, but who are not counted as unemployed (115,171) because they are attending employment or professional development programmes; or they have health issues that prevent them from accepting a job immediately. We concluded that, if they were included, the unemployment rate would be 37% higher than official figures indicate.

To put faces to these names, we went to find out about the day-to-day lives of Guiomar, Rui, Alice and António, all of whom are over 55 years old. This group is particularly vulnerable and represents 25% of those registered at the IEFP. They complain that the State ignores them, that there is a lack of measures for people of their age.

Faced with the whirlwind that is today’s reality, stories like those we are telling here are nearly always drowned out. They pass by unseen, despite them living alongside us, every day. In this report we talk about unemployment and inequality, but also of the omnipresent role of work in our society and the void that it leaves when access to this domain is denied.

Published at Divergente on 27th April 2020.

We count on you to keep on unveiling silences.