The Ararteko has received several complaints concerning the additional financial burden that the mandatory use of face masks places on certain persons. Acting upon these complaints, the Ararteko asked the Health Department within the Basque Government whether it was considering any measures to lower the price paid by those persons for surgical face masks.
The Health Department referred to the fact that the President of the Basque Country had been raising this issue in weekly meetings with the President of the Spanish Government, and proposing that surgical masks should be exempted from VAT for certain groups of persons. The Ararteko noted that the Department's response referred to matters within the competence of the Spanish Government and that the Health Department had not mentioned any measure within its own remit. Thus, he reiterated his request to the Health Department, which responded that it was not considering any measures.
The Ararteko is aware of the importance of the adequate use of face masks by everyone in order to contain further spreading of the virus. However, he notes the additional financial burden that the acquisition of masks places on economically vulnerable persons.
Some weeks after the Ararteko's inquiry, the Spanish Government reduced VAT on surgical masks from 21% to 4%. While this is a step in the right direction, the Ararteko is still not persuaded that this will be enough to alleviate the financial problems affecting certain persons when they try to comply with their obligation to wear a mask, and believes that additional measures may be necessary.
According to the charity organization Cáritas, 15.2% of the population in the Basque Country facing economic difficulties to meet their daily needs will be confronted with further exclusion in several areas of their lives (income, employment, housing, their safety network) as a consequence of the coronavirus crisis. In addition, those persons having overcome social exclusion derived form the 2008 financial crisis run the risk of reverting back to it.
For these reasons, the Ararteko has suggested to the Basque Government that it should consider additional measures to facilitate compliance with the mandatory use of face masks by persons in an economically vulnerable situation.