The return of the holidays is inevitably marked by the back-to-school campaigns of many brands and businesses, mainly selling clothing and footwear, books and school supplies. Along with them there are other more striking campaigns, but that we continue to assume normally: those that offer credits so that households with children can assume the outlay that this return to school entails.
That normality should not be such. That a family has to go into debt so that their children can access the exercise of a fundamental right, that of education (as reflected in the Spanish Constitution and in the Convention on the Rights of the Child), is at least debatable from a perspective of human rights and equity.
The disbursement of these so-called “indirect” costs (but many of them are actually essential for schooling) occurs this year in a context of very high inflation that is hitting all citizens, but especially families with children already households with less income.
To low-income households because the current price increase is particularly affecting basic consumer products: food, energy and basic household supplies that have a very important weight in the family shopping basket. In addition, with the high price increases of many of them, well above the general index, possible savings strategies are difficult, since there are no cheaper substitute products to turn to —such as pasta, flour or chicken —because these are precisely what are rising the most.
And to families with dependent children because their average spending is higher and because this difference in spending compared to households without children is also given in a special way in areas that are severely affected by the rise in prices, such as food and transport. For example, a couple with two children spends an average of 1,500 euros more per year on food than one without them. The data from the Family Budget Survey in these sections come to deny the aphorism: where two eat, three do not eat.
This spending differential between households with or without children is also obvious in educational spending. The current economic panorama, in addition to the general obstacle that these disbursements pose to the exercise of the right to education, places us in an even more worrying scenario due to its increase. Some examples: the cost of paper products (including school notebooks) has risen by 23% per year, which makes a significant increase in the price of textbooks (as some private surveys are already showing) or services expected. dining room, driven by the increase in food products and energy.
What to do to face this difficult situation for many families? For Unicef Spain it is exasperating to see how in the successive crises of recent years children and adolescents (and also young people) have paid a disproportionate price in terms of increased poverty or social exclusion. It is not an accessory to remember that many adolescents in this country are facing the third crisis of their lives with their families.
It is fair to recognize that in recent years important advances have been made in the social protection of children, through greater investment and awareness of the tremendously negative effects that poverty has on children (and on the country), but we have as a pending issue a universal provision of support for upbringing. A benefit that acts preventively, but also reparatively, in the face of crises and their impact on families. The countries around us that have this measure, the vast majority, are much more effective in reducing child poverty than ours, trailing Europe along with Malta in this regard. Acknowledging the importance of parenting, also economically, is also a step forward to face the disturbing demographic panorama that is drawn to us in the medium term.
Along with this general measure, there may be others more focused on educational costs. Unicef Spain supports the request that the Committee on the Rights of the Child made to Spain in 2018 to “guarantee access to good quality compulsory education for all children, which includes covering the related indirect costs”. Recent emergency actions such as the reduction of transport prices and the increase in high school scholarships, and others with more scope, such as the loan of textbooks, contribute to reducing these costs, but the scenario of these measures is still very uneven in the different territories and do not always guarantee that the families who need it most have access to them.
Some of the goals and objectives of the recently approved State Action Plan for the Implementation of the European Child Guarantee are directly linked to this need to eliminate economic barriers to access to education, but the Plan’s horizon (2030) seems too far away when these policies have been necessary for a long time, and this year even more so.
The path towards a desirable universal free provision of these materials and services could begin by ensuring that all scholarships and educational aid (for books, dining, transportation) are considered a subjective right of the child, that is, that they do not depend on the generosity (or not) of the budgets of each year of the responsible administration, but that all children and families who are at risk of poverty have the right to receive them in an amount sufficient to compensate the expenses, or have access to these services for free.
A necessary step so that there is no reason to go into debt to exercise fundamental rights.