More than 3,000 public and private schools re-open today across Catalunya with the start of a new school year, with around 1.3 million pupils between the ages of three and 18 expected to attend classes (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). If the number of children who have already started at nursery school and those pupils who will be starting the 'ciclos de grado superior' next Monday, the total number of students in schools this year is 1,280,000, which is the highest of the past 22 years. However, despite this and the additional 30,000 pupils in classrooms this term, the number of teachers has been frozen. Changes that have been undertaken in the education sector include the removal in 75 percent of schools of the sixth hour of teaching, which was introduced by the previous Catalan government, and an increase by one hour in the amount of teaching that teachers have to do each week. Budgets to schools have been cut, as have grants for extra-curricular activities and money available for the substitution and replacement of teaching assistants. The return to school this year has also been overshadowed by the ruling by the Catalan Superior Court that public schools must use Castilian as a 'vehicle language' (rather than just teaching it in classes of Castilian literature and language as currently happens), although it seems unlikely that the Generalitat will introduce this change this academic year.
The Generalitat is planning to substitute the majority of grants that up to now have been provided to small businesses to allow them to make investments in their companies, with a new line of guarantees that aim to provide easier access to credit for these firms, and which can be used both for capital and investment (read article in Castilian here, La Vanguardia). This is one of the main changes in the new policy of financial aid as produced by the Consorci de Comerç del Departament d'Empresa i Ocupació, which will come into effect this autumn. Another new feature will be that of a series of grants as 'permanent loans': the money (€1,500) is supposed to motivate the reopening of businesses that have closed down, a measure that aims to mitigate the negative, demotivating effect that occurs when people see businesses on main streets with the shutters down due to closure, explained the director general of Comerç, Josep Maria Recasens. A focus on local commerce in rural areas is going to be another one of the main features of the new policy regarding financial aid.
The lengthy economic crisis that Spain is suffering has caused a rise in the phenomenon of unemployed people with no sources of income (read article in Castilian here, El Periodico). The situation is starting to cause alarm amongst trade unions and governments in the face of the growing number of people without access to any kind of financial aid, including the €400 supplementary benefit provided to those whose main unemployment benefit has finished, because the fixed time periods for receiving the money have expired in these cases. In Catalunya, according to information from the UGT trade union based on employment statistics, in November 2009 there were 86,247 unemployed without access to financial aid, while in July of this year, that number had almost doubled to 161,262, which represents just over 28 percent of all those out of work who are registered with an unemployment office. Before the summer, there was a slight fall in these numbers, but both unions and administrations said that this was a seasonal feature and the August figures backed up their claim with a new rise. In June 2008, the number of people who had been out of work for more than 12 months was around 70,000; however, now, following four years of crisis, the figure is around 210,000. In addition, according to the union's HQ, "the total number of people in a situation of long-term unemployment is 46.77 percent (97,885 people) who have been more than 24 months on lists of those out of work."