School lunches fall victim to Spanish austerity

As the economic crisis in Spain deepens, several regions are considering charging students who bring lunch from home up to €3 to use the school cafeteria, the latest in a series of reforms that critics claim are hurting the most vulnerable.


There are no savings too small to count as Spain struggles to make its way out of economic crisis. Looking to reduce spending wherever it can, schools – and by extension, students – have become the latest target of drastic cost-cutting measures. With the start of the academic year just around the corner, many regions in Spain are considering charging even those students who bring lunch from home to use space in the school cafeteria.

It is not the first time Spanish authorities have gone to surprising lengths to rein in spending. Earlier this year, the Catalonia region’s ministry of education introduced a toilet paper quota in state schools. Apparently, extravagant toilet paper use was costing enough that the government decided to clamp down. And so a rule was introduced limiting students to 25 metres (82 feet) of toilet paper per month.

However, asking students to rent space in school lunchrooms goes a step beyond simply rationing resources. Authorities in Catalonia have already announced plans to charge students as much as €3 per day for the right to eat with friends in the school cafeteria, despite the fact that those bringing lunch from home are often those who already cannot afford to pay for school lunches. Education officials in the regions of Valencia and Madrid have said they will put similar programmes in place.

‘Austerity affects our daily lives’

The mealtime reforms don’t stop there. Madrid’s regional ministry of education has also announced plans to slash food subsidies to families in need from €29 million to €16 million. The measure is part of Spain’s broader effort to reduce the national deficit, with billions expected to be cut from the education and health sectors alone.

“The austerity measures have an effect on our daily lives,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Madrid, Adeline Percept. “My 4½-year-old daughter no longer has physical education classes at school. The region’s education system no longer pays for sports at the end of the day, so I have to pay 20 euros a month so that she can still do it at school.”

Percept said that fees for childcare, pre-primary education and primary school are also expected to go up.

“More and more parents are deciding not to put their young children in childcare programmes because it costs too much,” Percept said. “More and more people are now unemployed, so they opt to keep their kids home with them. Looking for a job takes a backseat to parenting because it is seen as a more urgent issue to be dealt with.”

Even higher education has not escaped spending cuts. In an effort to bring down costs, the country’s education minister, José Ignacio Wert, plans on hiking university fees and reducing the number of courses on offer. The reforms are expected to amount to nearly €3 billion in annual savings.

Previously, students paid between €700 and €1,400 in fees per year. Under Wert’s reforms, however, those hoping to enroll for classes come September will have to pay an additional €540 to attend university.

Spain has already seen several mass demonstrations against spending cuts affecting the country’s education system over the past year. Thousands of people – including students, parents, teachers and unions – have gathered in cities nationwide to protest against austerity measures that they felt targeted some of the groups already most affected by the crisis.

As Spain prepares to make more cuts to its already frail education system, those going back to school this autumn might be facing some unexpectedly tough lessons.

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