People Across Europe Protest Cuts in Spending to Education and Public Services

By JYOTHI NATARAJAN

Young people across Europe are protesting spending cuts to education and other public benefits. More than one in five people under the age of 25 in the European Union is unemployed. PHOTO: Flickr/chrisjohnbeckett
Students in London protesting cuts to spending on education. In the United Kingdom (U.K.), Spain, France, Greece, Italy and Ireland, governments are also cutting their budgets because of the financial crisis. More than one in five 16- to 24-year-olds in the European Union are unemployed. PHOTO: Flickr/chrisjohnbeckett

After hearing that his local public youth center in Oxfordshire, England (United Kingdom), would be closed in March 2011 because of budget cuts, 12-year-old Nicky Wishart decided to take action. In December, he organized a protest outside the local office of Prime Minister David Cameron to save the center. After learning about his plan though, police officers pulled Nicky out of class. Nicky told reporters that one police officer said to him, “If a riot breaks out we will arrest people, and if anything happens you will get arrested because you are the organizer.”

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Nicky Wishart protesting the closing of his public youth center. Nicky helped to bring together more than 1,500 kids across the United Kingdom who felt strongly about saving their youth centers. PHOTO: Tom Jennings

As Nicky’s fight for his youth center shows, the spending cuts in Europe are affecting kids, too. The youth center in Oxfordshire is one of hundreds of centers across the country that are set to close next year. Kids go there to use computers and the Internet, play table tennis, listen to music and hang out with other kids without having to spend money. Wishart’s mother explained, “Through the club they’ve had all sorts of experiences that I couldn’t afford to give them myself.”

To organize the protest, Nicky used the computer at the center to create a Facebook group called “Save ALL U.K. Youth Centers.” Despite pressure from the police not to hold the protest, he and more than 100 other people joined the rally. “I just want to say to [Mr. Cameron], look, this really doesn’t have to close. Lots of people use it.”

What’s Happening Across Europe

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Here’s a look at how spending cuts are affecting some countries across Europe. According to the Trade Union Advisory Committee as well as the Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the best alternative to the cuts is “investing in quality public services” rather than taking that funding away.
United Kingdom (U.K.): The government made the largest spending cuts since World War II . They reduced government funding for universities by the equivalent of 4.7 billion U.S. dollars and tripled the fees to attend many of those same universities.
France: Millions of people protested an increase in the retirement age. The increase means that people must wait longer to collect money after they stop working.
Romania: Salaries for many public sector jobs are being cut by 25 percent.
Greece: Salaries for some public sector jobs will be cut in half, and there will be cuts to spending on building of new schools, roads and hospitals.
Italy: The government is cutting spending for education by putting small universities together and ending some academic programs.