Social welfare is the biggest concern of the Spaniards. The worry likely to be the most decisive in the elections is unemployment. Nearly five million people eligible to work are not working, due to the stagnating economy. The austerity plan in progress makes it unlikely that they will see any improvement next year.
It is worse still for some: the long-term unemployed, whose two years of social security benefits has run out. They get ad hoc aid of 400 euros per month, introduced by the Socialist government in August, programmed to last for six months. With resources stretched thin, there are a million and a half jobseekers not covered by social protection. There are almost that many homes in which no member of the family has a job — 11 percent of the country’s households.
Another pillar of society, public education is under increasing stress. Spain’s autonomous regions manage nine tenths of what is spent on schooling. Around five percent of the national income (2009 figures) goes on this, but one third of the schools are private yet are also subsidised. This year saw a general protest mobilisation in the Madrid region, which is governed by the centre-right Partido Popular, against reductions of public sector teachers’ posts.
The fears for the health system are also amply justified. It has been free for everyone in Spain since 1986, even people who have never paid into it, financed in theory by tax revenues. Spending on public and private health comes to nine percent of GDP, which is around the average in the EU.
The central government gives the regions a budget based on population and demographics, for them to then manage. Thirty-five percent of the region’s spending is on health.
The deficit for care has now reached between 15 and 20 billion euros. Hospital and doctors’ visits, tests… everything is paid for, although a small part of medicines is paid for by the user, who also has to cover dental care and eye glasses, until retirement age.