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16th Apr 2024

School supplies rise in price twice as fast as EU wages

  • In the first five months of 2023 the cost of the most basic school products increased 13 percent (Photo: Unsplash)
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September marks the return to school for the little ones — which this year will take a bigger bite out of families' wallets, as the cost of most basic school supplies has risen twice as fast as wages across the EU, according to new analysis by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

From January to May 2023, the cost of the most basic school supplies rose by an average of 13 percent, while wages increased by just six percent.

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"Cuts to school budgets have already placed an added burden on parents and now the increases in the cost of basic school supplies will mean that more children will lack the essentials of learning," ETUC general secretary Esther Lynch said.

The situation varies from one European country to another. In Croatia, the Netherlands and Slovenia, supplies have increased in price by between 19 and 23 percent, while in Greece and Italy the increase is under 10 percent.

Before the pandemic, the increase was less than two percentage points for items such as pens, pencils, paper, and folders. Now, even the prices of school books, children's clothes and shoes are rising faster than wages.

"This is a big problem for lower-income households, especially working class families and migrants," Senad Lacevic, chairman of the workers' council of Vienna's adult education centres said. "Under these circumstances there are no equal opportunities and success in education is very much dependent on family income."

With prices rising faster than wages, the situation of the worst-off youngest becomes even more critical.

From 2019 to 2022, the number of children at risk of poverty increased from 23 to 25 percent. In other words, one-in-four children under the age of 18 in the EU is at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

The surge in stationery costs is just the latest blow to the pockets of European families. Last year, the annual rise in prices reached its highest level on record when inflation hit 9.2 percent. Wages rose by only 4.4 percent on average across the EU.

According to Eurostat, the prices of basic goods rose by an average of 16.8 percent between 2021 and 2022. Food, energy, and transport have seen much higher rises, taking a larger share of low-income households' incomes than the rest of the population.

(Photo: Eurostat, 2023)

In the Netherlands, for example, electricity, gas and other fuels accounted for about 70 percent of the country's overall price increase.

"People desperately need a pay rise to cope with the cost of living and all the data shows that inflation is being driven by excess profits, not wages," Lynch said.

Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, said as much last June: corporate profits were the main factor driving up prices last year.

Researchers at the International Monetary Fund also showed that about half of the rise in inflation in Europe over the past two years was due to a boom in corporate profits, and partly because of soaring costs for imported energy.

Given that workers have lost purchasing power, the trade union confederation urged the commission in an August letter to recognise the need to improve working and living conditions, ensure investment in quality jobs, support collective bargaining and quality public services.

"There is no time to lose," the letter said, urging the EU executive to come up with concrete measures during the State of the Union address (SOTEU) by its president, Ursula von der Leyen, next week in the Strasbourg's plenary session (13 September).

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