Barakaldo´s FUA encompasses the Municipality of Barakaldo (core area), the Municipalities of Sestao, Portugalete, and Santurtzi (peripheral zone), and the Gran Bilbao district (general influencing territory). Their examination required the analysis of three different competence levels: the Basque Government (global territorial governance), the Provincial Council of Bizkaia (regional governance), and the Municipality of Barakaldo (local governance).
Barakaldo is a river-port town in Bizkaia with 100,000 inhabitants, approximately. Embraced by the Grand Bilbao. It preserves its own personality, tradition and cultural identity, which has been shaped by its strong industrial tradition and the influence of incoming migratory movements.
Main challenges, trends and policies
In Basque Country, there is no discrimination in access to housing in relation to sex, origin or sexual orientation. Under similar economic conditions and access to credit, people are officially equal. Regarding protected housing, the Basque Country implements measures that aim to foster social equality by supporting vulnerable groups. In Barakaldo, poor quality of housing has shaped the urban context for decades. In the 1990s, a favorable economic cycle led to a significant improvement in living and housing conditions: from 1998-2008, more than 12,000 homes were built locally.
In 2008, the economic cycle entered into recession, increasing unemployment especially among young people, reaching tremendously high rates between 2010 and 2016. This, together with the limited access to credit for housing, stopped the construction of protected housing and prevented young people from leaving their family houses. This trend, involving people who cannot afford emancipating due to difficulties to find a stable job, continues to date.
The groups mostly affected by local unemployment are women with inactivity rates higher than men or migrant groups, with little training, lack of regularized administrative records, and few homologations of studies; young people starting work life and/or with low qualifications; people over 45 years old with low qualifications, promoted to early retirement, and affected by local deindustrialization or digitization and long-term unemployed subjects over 50 years of age.
Over the years, the territory has been recovering from unremitting unemployment. However, some people have unfortunately stagnated in the situation of unemployment under the structure of chronification which is a social exclusion from work that tends to be inherited by next generations from their families. The policies introduced by the Basque Government have been oriented towards the reduction of this chronification for more than a decade, noticing the effects of the active implemented actions on reducing social cost of unemployment.
The Basque Education System made an effort to develop an inclusive schooling based on everyone´s right to enjoy equal access to quality education . Basque Country shows a higher public expenditure in education compared to national level, but this investment does not seem to have a real translation into the local labour market.
Another challenge is to integrate migrants in the Basque education system, especially due to the territorial use of the local Basque language (euskera). Despite several local programs supporting the inclusion of migrants in education have been implemented, the effort seemed to be insufficient and didn’t reach the objective.
Other inequalities in the field of education have to do with the economic capacities of the territories and their municipalities, such as the differences that may occur due to the availability and distribution of funds between public and private educational institutions, which to a certain extent influences the quality of individual training. Specifically, in terms of educational inequality, the Basque Government actively provides support to specific groups at risk of social exclusion, as it is the case of the certain groups of migrants in the community, young people with higher probability of leaving school or the educational system prematurely, or students whose families suffer from serious economic problems.
In Bizkaia, youth poverty has increased since the financial crisis of 2008. In fact, the number of people living at risk of poverty, residing in households headed by a person under 35 years of age, has increased significantly between 2008 and 2019. This ratio turns out to be even higher for women.
Migrants comprise another significant group of vulnerable people in Bizkaia. Once the migration phenomena became noticeable in the region, the Basque Government started to partially cover the salaries and expenses of migration technicians in city councils in order to improve the municipalities´ capacity to analyze, understand and advise measures to solve the specific social problems of this collective. The Basque Country´s government also funds municipalities to launch local initiatives addressing migrant´s inclusion. The situation of this group is critical in the territory and will require more efforts from the regional powers to tackle it in the next years.
Discussion and main conclusions
The most salient trends regarding education that influence inequality are the preeminent Basque Government’s autonomy and competences to oversee territorial education, fostering a Basque Education policy/system that is rooted in an inclusive and quality education.
Since migrants happen to be a significant vulnerable collective regarding education. The Barakaldo´s local education network made noteworthy efforts to integrate these people, while allocating resources and coordinating multi-level actions to reduce inequalities in this cohort.
On the other hand, the most prominent trends in local employability were the territorial identification of concrete groups mostly affected by unemployment during 2007-2020, the predominant precarious working conditions among them linked to low salaries, and the elevated number of temporary contracts signed by these people.
Given the efficient local mobility communications at present, the well-organized network of horizontal infrastructures (roads and highways) and urban transport (train and subway) in the Grand Bilbao allows smooth and fast interconnections between the cities that make up this district, representing a beneficial impact for communities in terms of employment. Other relevant issues associated with employability in the territory are the continuous need to improve the digital skills of young local people, the existence of geographical inequalities in the territory, the outstanding promotion of local entrepreneurship, and the positive permeability of multilevel territorial strategies, in general terms.
Regarding those trends identified in the housing social dimension, it is worth to mention the existence of a General Urban Management Plan, leaded by the Basque Government, that works both regionally and locally helping realizing the rationale behind local competences and strategies, the close correlation between indigenous unemployment and housing inequality, and the current difficulties in accessing a dwelling for the first time while initiating a personal emancipation process.
Other determining facts in the housing dimension are the residual but existing discrimination in the access to housing for reasons of origin, sex, or sexual orientation; the local speculative tendency increasingly oriented towards rent, and the marginal deprivation and spatial segregation that persists in the local housing.
In the dimension of social protection and migration, it is essential to mention the evolved and improved Basque social protection system, the dynamic and resilient territorial reaction linked to social protection actions during the COVID-19 crisis, the progressive home-growing relevance of migration policies with a more inclusive approach, the changes in the profiles of migrants over time and their effects on local social inclusion, the youth policies outlined in the practice of education professionals, and the harmony in the levels of competences in matters such as the proposal for the oncoming Basque Law for Youth.
Today, the room for maneuver of local authorities in terms of the design and implementation of policies has evolved positively thanks to the progressive transfer of competences ―limited to implementation process- from the Basque Government to the municipalities. However, much remains to be done in terms of local demand for opportunities to adjust and customize local actions in accordance with the municipal context.
In addition, despite the recent “Open Government” process initiated by some local municipalities, such as Barakaldo, the local participation of young people and their encouragement to become more actively involved in policy-making continues to be a challenge to overcome by local authorities and society. For this, it is recommended to enhance the quality and efficiency of local policies, placing greater emphasis on contextualizing actions according to the specific demands of certain concrete social groups.
The study also revealed some observed gender inequalities in educational attainment and job integration among FUA’s Barakaldo residents. Women show mixed educational attainment with lower levels of early school leaving rate, lower levels of professional credentials, and slightly higher levels of illiteracy. Regarding labor insertion, it is easy to see that women are in a more vulnerable position, with higher unemployment rates, but greater ratios of employment in the service industry, that is, a sector of activity with longer and precarious career paths.
Barakaldo Urban Story Our storymaps draw together insights on inequalities and policies affecting urban youth, across education, employment and housing, from the WP2 urban reports and data analyses.