Thursday, September 05, 2013

Supermarket Sweep And The Costs Of Education

Four years ago the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) in the Balearics was given school material to the value of 11,310 euros. This donation formed part of a benefit "return to school" campaign in which the Cruz Roja was also able to put out tables to receive personal donations of school materials, which were destined to go to hard-up families. These different donations were arranged by the charitable foundation operated by the Carrefour supermarket chain.

Last week, SAT, the Andalusian Workers' Union, organised a "raid" on a Carrefour supermarket in Seville. Activists swept through the store, lifting school materials that were to be given to families in need and which were said to have been worth around 2,000 euros. The union has asked the store to treat this haul of school materials as a donation.

Whether the store agrees or doesn't agree and so whether charges will be pressed or aren't pressed, SAT's act (and it is not the first time it has arranged such a raid on a store) was theft. Robin Hood it may have been, but it was still shoplifting.

One can appreciate that the raid was a spectacular way of drawing attention to the plight of needy families, and much though one might sympathise with these needy families and even with the action taken by SAT, it cannot be condoned. If it were to be, then what?

Carrefour in the Balearics showed four years ago that help can be arranged via normal charitable means. It didn't have to arrange such help and nor does it have to now. Retailers are not the cause of financial hardship, but they are in its frontline. SAT's raids earlier this year bagged food and other staple items that were intended for distribution to NGOs for their ultimate distribution to the needy. The NGOs, just like Carrefour, were placed in a very awkward position. Apart from anything else, they would have been liable for handling stolen goods. SAT's spectaculars are counterproductive, as they alienate the very organisations who shouldn't be alienated when it comes to helping the needy, and these include large retailers with charitable divisions.

There have been no raids of this type in Mallorca, but the fact that Carrefour was organising charitable acts demonstrated that economic crisis had made things difficult for families in the Balearics who were faced by the costs of their childrens' education. Four years on, things are more difficult.

The increase in IVA (VAT) last September meant that school materials were to attract 21% tax where they had only been taxed at 4% (books were kept at the 4% rate but other educational materials rose by 17%). Because the increase was well publicised, purchases could be made before the increase kicked in, but that was last year. Now, in addition to more expensive school materials, families in the Balearics face another additional cost, that of books in English to meet the demands of TIL (the "tratamiento integrado de lenguas"), which is the decree for trilingual education, meaning that certain classes will be taught in English. These books are more expensive than those in Castellano, in some instances by almost ten euros.

Consumer groups have estimated that the cost of this year's return to school will in any event rise by up to 3%. In itself this might not seem that burdensome, but household budgets, squeezed as they are, don't need further costs for textbooks in English as well.

The introduction of TIL seems to have overlooked the fact that families will have to spend more, just as it has overlooked some other factors, such as how ill-prepared some schools are to meet its demands. The Balearics High Court is going to have to move swiftly in making a decision whether to back a suspension to the implementation of TIL, as called for by unions which maintain that there has been insufficient time to prepare; the new school year starts on 13 September. Two unions have already announced that teachers will strike from that date.

The Balearic Government says that there is no "Plan B" if the TIL implementation is suspended. Whether it is suspended or not, the new school year, only a matter of a few days away, is likely to be chaotic.

I have in the past drawn attention to how news reports of this new school year are typified by announcements that the return to school has been "normal". I have often wondered what might constitute an abnormal return to school. It may be that, in Mallorca, I am about to find out. Meanwhile in Andalusia, the return to school is marked by raids on supermarkets.

Any comments to please.

No comments: