Brits are “living the dream” in Spain, that is, “until the wheels fall off the bus,” he told Euronews.
When Margot Campbell-Parton’s husband died in an accident in 2006, her dream of a carefree life in Spain was shattered.
After police knocked on her door one Sunday morning with the sad news, the 65-year-old Glasgow woman was left completely alone as she had to identify his body herself.
“It was a horrible time,” he told Euronews. “No one asked me how she was doing. I saw no one”.
Her children soon arrived to support their mother, but more nightmarish troubles befell the family.
Margot and her husband Alec had borrowed money to set up a business in Port de Sóller, Mallorca, and a third person quickly got “screwed”, leaving her with a loan of 250,000 euros.
In the following months, her distress turned into severe depression, as she struggled to sell her house, pay off the debt and process the death of her husband, all without the option of returning to Scotland, as she had sold her house there.
“I was never a tough person. I was always someone who cried very easily. But everything that happened made me very cold,” she said.
“It was a very lonely moment. A very sad moment.”
“Things are much more difficult than at home”
Some 307,000 British citizens will live in Spain in 2022, according to figures from epdata.
A large majority tend to be older and head south to spend the later stages of their lives somewhere that is cheaper – and certainly sunnier – than Britain.
However, Dr. Kelly Halllecturer in social policy at the University of Birmingham, who has investigated Care issues faced by British immigrants in Spain, he says some may encounter “really big problems”.
She details a textbook scenario in which “healthy” Brits move to Spain in their 50s and 60s, to areas with high concentrations of other Brits, and don’t learn Spanish because “they have difficulties or don’t need it,” to despite “good intentions.” sometimes.
“They have been quite happy for some time now,” Dr Hall tells Euronews. “But then something happens, say a partner dies or a health problem, which puts them in a very precarious position and can trigger a whole host of mental health problems, such as loneliness and isolation.”
In early November, the British Embassy in Spain warned that many of the 72,000 Britons living on the Costa del Sol – home to the largest community of Britons in Spain – could find themselves isolated and alone.
A central issue is that many British expats do not speak Spanish, meaning they may struggle to access support services when they need them.
“Spain is a big country, there are many organizations that help people, but sometimes people get a little lost,” adds Neil Hesketh of Support in Spaina non-profit website helping British expats within the country.
Another problem he points out is that Spain’s social care system is not as large as Britain’s, and Spanish families are expected to provide more support to their sick or elderly relatives, compared to a “more individualistic” UK. .
Even in normal times, language barriers and being geographically far from friends and family can cause problems.
“People feel lonely everywhere,” explains Hesketh. “But obviously in Spain it’s different because they’re not in their home country. Traditional cultural landmarks, like the pub, are not English-speaking.”
“Someone’s son or daughter can’t just come over for a cup of tea, you know?”
Part of this is due to the British. Some don’t “bother to integrate,” meaning that many problems can go unnoticed or unaddressed, according to Hesketh.
“It can be very frustrating and disconcerting for Spaniards when they find a poor Englishman with dementia in their garden.”
Her organization works to support Britons who find themselves in vulnerable situations in Spain, signposting them to services and support they can access within the country. It has about 8,000 users a month, she says.
“There is not enough foresight”
For Hesketh, a major problem is that British expats may fail to plan for what he calls the “unpleasant things in life”.
“Everyone comes to Spain to live a dream,” he tells Euronews. “They have some money, they buy a house in the country. People get into trouble when they move without really planning what might happen if things go wrong.”
“They’re living the dream until the wheels fall off the bus,” he continues.
Brexit has also hampered the process, impacting the lives of many Britons in Spain.
Dr Hall points out that many of those living on “really low incomes”, especially state pensions, were hit hard by the depreciation of the pound following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
“They can’t afford to go meet their friends at the restaurant or the bar… as their disposable income has disappeared, so has their social life,” he says, highlighting cases in which older people have ended up sleeping on the beach because unable to pay the rent.
Since the 2016 Brexit vote, the pound has lost 20% of its value, according to analysis by CNN.
But there is help available.
The British embassy in Spain has asked experts and public authorities to help its compatriots, although when asked by Euronews to detail exactly what it was doing, it did not provide information.
“The British Embassy works to protect and promote British interests in Spain. As part of that, we provide support and advice to British people visiting or living in Spain,” he said in a statement.
Consular services in Spain are “overloaded”, according to Dr Hall.
However, councils are working on innovative ways to build community and provide care for their British residents.
One of them is the Mijas City Council which – through APEMEX (Aid Program for Senior Foreigners) – has developed associations that connect older people so that they do not feel alone.
“The British who arrived in Spain when they were completely autonomous made the decision to live away from their families and social networks. They are a prototype of independent and free people, so when they reach old age people do not change,” said the professor. of Social Work and Social Services of the University of Jaén, Yolanda María de la Fuente.
“Perhaps we should apply a kind of gerontological pedagogy and make them understand that with a little support and help they could live much better and, above all, design their own life plan with some guidance,” he added.
For those considering taking the step, Support in Spain’s Hesketh urged Brits to “integrate as much as possible, learn the language and understand how the Spanish system can help.