“We have lived well, but what future is there for our children?” It’s a question expressed by an older generation of Spaniards who lived through the country’s civil war and Franco’s dictatorship, in French newspaper Le Monde.
Grandparents who began working at the age of thirteen are seeing grandchildren with college degrees face a far more uncertain future. An unemployment rate of 25 percent and far higher for those in their twenties, new austerity measures, higher taxes and other effects of the financial crisis are taking a deep toll on Spanish society.
Here are four ways that La Crisis is changing Spain’s social institutions.
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1. The Family
Retirees who have paid off their houses and expected to live comfortably on their pensions are finding themselves taking their children and their grandchildren in. 76-year old Dolores Fernández Mora, her husband, 75-year old husband Mariano Blesa Julvé, their unemployed 48-year-old daughter Carmen Blesa and two of her unemployed adult sons all live on the elders’ pension in their two-bedroom apartment. The grandparents are helping to pay their daughter’s debts and sometimes hardly have any money for food.
The New York Times cites a survey by Simple Lógica, Gallup’s partner in Spain, which found that in 2012, 40 percent of people over 65 years old said they were supporting at least one younger relative; in 2010, that figure was 15 percent.
In a recent survey, 98 percent of Spain’s nursing homes reported vacancies as children have been caring for elderly parents at home. Doing so enables them to use their parents’ pensions to support households:
In the suburbs of Barcelona, Mari Ángeles Ramiro Trenado was down to earning just 120 euros, about $150, a month and facing monthly rent of 500 euros, about $615, when she and her brother decided to take their mother out of a nursing home this year. On a recent afternoon, Ms. Ramiro, who has a mentally disabled adult child at home, too, said that taking care of her mother had left her exhausted and depressed.
But despite her best efforts, her mother, who is so fragile she cannot leave the house and suffers from mental lapses, was demanding to be taken back to the nursing home.
Ramiro says she will accede to her mother’s wishes while acknowledging that the loss of her 600 euro (about $740) pension will be much missed.
2. The Siesta
The siesta, the long-time Spanish two-to-three hour midday break for a leisurely meal and a snooze to avoid searing afternoon heat, could become an endangered species. Many Spaniards start work at 8:00 am and leave at 8:00 pm, taking a siesta from 2:00 – 5:00 pm. But employees have been working longer hours and even taking lunch from home to eat at their desks or eating fast food.
Reuters quotes Rogelio Barahona, chef and owner of the restaurant Urkiola Mendi in Madrid:
“The crisis has hit citizens so hard that people haven’t had any choice but to get over the embarrassment of taking food to work and once someone has lost the shame factor, it makes it easy for everyone else.”
With one in four workers jobless, restaurants that have long catered to them with set menus of about ten euros have had to change their operations as sales have declined by 50 percent. Some are foregoing cooking their own meals and bringing in meals from larger kitchens, offering single dishes or dishes made from cheaper ingredients.
3. Restaurant and Bar Culture
Austerity is hitting Spain’s “almost unmatched restaurant and bar culture” hard in a challenge that “could threaten its role as a leader in global cuisine and its place on international lists of top restaurants,” with potential repercussions for the tourism industry.
According to the New York Times, 5,000 restaurants and bars closed in 2009; 4,000 in 2010 and 3,000 in 2011. Restaurants closing their doors include not only those catering to workers who are now watching their lunch budgets but exclusive eateries with Michelin stars whose clientele of politicians and financiers has dwindled.
In face, some restaurants are giving up Michelin stars to start offering trattoria fare or cuisine served in hotels. As Maria Vega de Seoane, who, along with her husband, closed an upscale restaurant after business clients cut back on their spending, says in the New York Times: “The choice now is between adapting or dying.” A recently opened diner, Taller de la Hamburguesa, which serves a hamburger with lettuce and onions for 7 euros (about $8.60), has been doing well.
4. School Lunches
State-run schools charge about 150 euros a month for full meals for students but some parents have begun to send children to school with packed lunches.
School staff are resisting the growth of “Tupperware kids” bringing lunches in plastic containers in part, says Reuters, because of fears about food spoiling in Spain’s hot summer temperatures. Some schools have even banned packed lunches.
Eloisa Hurtado, a mother of two, also raises concerns about rising child obesity rates:
There’s a risk that the kids start to change their eating habits, because in Spain we eat a big meal at midday with a lighter supper. The tupperware lunch is turning meal times on its head and that’s an important change for our culinary culture.
Hurtado acknowledges that banning packed lunches is not a solution, as not all families have someone available to take a child home at lunch at the midday break.
On a grimmer note is the predicament of Maria Dolores Milla and Juan Manuel Lopez described in the Spanish newspaper El Pais. She is unable to work due to a disability; he is a waiter and has been unemployed since 2010. They receive support from the government but only just received a payment due in May. They have four children aged 15, 8, 7 and 2 years of age and subsist with food donations from the Red Cross But as they say “we are desperate for our children to have all they need to eat” (“estamos desesperados por que a los niños no les falte de comer”).
Milla and Lopez live in Andalusia which has appealed to Spain’s government for funds. “Y gracias a Dios que en Andalucía no hay que pagar los libros del colegio,” says Lopez: “Thank God that in Andalusia, we don’t have to pay for schoolbooks.”
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