LI Granada branch member Jennie Walsh writes about the implications of Brexit for her friends, her neighbours, and herself
A neighbour in Granada province asked me how to register to vote in the EU referendum. She moved from the UK with her husband and young daughter around 15 years ago. She’s been aware of the pro and anti-EU debate over the years, but never paid attention as she’s taken her new life in this beautiful part of Spain for granted.
Her husband worked and paid his taxes here from the start. He is looking forward to receiving both a Spanish and a UK state pension in a few years. Their daughter, who considers herself much more Spanish than English, went through the education system - still dipping into it from time to time to top up her qualifications. They all rely on the excellent Spanish health care system.
“I’ve just realised how much we might stand to lose,” my neighbour said. “I’m not sure I understand how the UK leaving the EU will change things for us, but I’m really frightened and I realise that I can’t complain about what happens if we don’t at least try to register to vote.”
I explained that she might fall foul of the 15 year rule, but sent her the link to the government’s voter registration service anyway.
I’ve lived in Spain for 18 months. We moved after I was made redundant and went freelance, my husband’s legal consultancy work was dwindling, and my daughter had finished her primary education. We already owned a holiday home, which we assumed we could live in. The sterling to euro exchange rate was amazing – we could make money on every transfer. Almost, why work?
Of course it wasn’t that simple. The holiday home wasn’t habitable all year round. Much work was needed – on the house and to pay for it. And lately, moving fairly large amounts of sterling has been much less lucrative with the pound falling significantly when the date for the referendum was announced, and the possibility of Brexit looming.
Yet in all these months I’ve not called on Spain’s welfare state, including the health service - though said neighbour tells me how good the local Centro de Salud’s women’s health services are. In spite of lots of research, I’m not entirely clear what the EHIC card covers. Locally, it appears to depend on how busy they are at the health centre. I spend time on our local Facebook page where this question is debated constantly, and in fairly graphic terms about what conditions people are hoping for help with (I think it’s called oversharing).
I try to do things by the book and would not assume that my extremely painful and fairly debilitating tennis elbow would count as an emergency under the EHIC scheme. Yet a friend who moved here recently and, like me, only has an EHIC card, not a Spanish health card, and no private health insurance got a cortisone injection for the same thing, no questions asked. Another got a mammogram. I’m not judging, I just make the point that health care for expat women here appears to be very accessible.
Perhaps it will always be so. We are lucky to be living in a liberal, diverse and extremely tolerant Spanish town - an attitude that seems to seep into every part of our community. But we can’t assume it will always be so, especially post Brexit. Continuing straitened times in local, rural economies such as ours might yet result in the fears of British women here about the impact a Brexit will have on their health care, on education and on their children’s lives becoming a reality.