John S. Nunn
A fortnight ago I had the pleasure of meeting Alan Bailey, President of Age Concern Menorca, along with his fellow workers. The occasion was their weekly meeting at Bar Pons in Cala en Porter. I was accompanied by two colleagues from the "Diario". Our aim was to find out how the British population is coping with the economic crisis.

There is currently an exodus of British residents from the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol and we were interested to find out whether such an exodus is taking place here. The resident population of Britons in Menorca had risen from 3,005 in 2006 to 3,487 in 2008, but is this trend now being reversed?
The view expressed by the Age Concern volunteers is that amongst the more senior residents of the island there is no discernible trend of movement back to the UK. Exceptional cases occur where an elderly person is widowed and returns for family reasons, or where a person becomes ill and feels that they would be better off in Britain. Alan and his colleagues were quick to emphasise that, in general, people are well satisfied with the health service they receive here. There are, however, cases in which it is more appropriate for the person to return to Britain, for residential care, for example. There is a growing problem regarding residential care for the elderly on this island. Demographic studies show a much more top heavy population pyramid, due to increased life expectancy. Residential places for those in need of care on the island fall well short of the demand for such places. The reality is that the facilities are not synchronised to the demands for such services, due to families becoming more fragmented than previously. One reason for such fragmentation is the trend for younger people to have to migrate to the Peninsula for work. Regarding the situation for British residents; there is a rule that in order to qualify for residential care one has to have held residencia for a minimum of five years.

Among the British residents are many who started moving here thirty to forty years ago; many of them are now receiving a pension. Senior residents are quick to point out the difference that the exchange rate is making to their pension income. For example, an average State Pension monthly income of four hundred and twenty pounds sterling bought five hundred and sixty euros in mid 2007, compared to the situation today where it fluctuates at just above parity with the euro.

Our survey of British views regarding the economic downturn has not been confined to pensioners. We found that amongst young families there is evidence that difficulties in finding work are leading to people returning to Britain, but rather than being a mass exodus, it is a trickle. Some removal businesses are reporting an increase in business one way - northwards. Nevertheless, a sentiment that comes over loud and clear from young families is that they like the way of life, they feel secure here and see the island as a good place to bring up a young family.

The young families questioned are reacting to the economic problems in much the same way as the more elderly. They are eating at home more and using restaurants less, in much the same way that local Spanish families are adapting to the situation. Alongside the poor exchange rate, everyone is commenting on rising prices. People are much keener to seek out "best buys" and to "make do and mend". Avoiding unnecessary use of the car is another principle being mentioned by local residents. Holding on to the car one has, instead of changing it for a newer model, is also a more common tendency. It all spells bad news for local businesses.

The overwhelming message that we were given by the people interviewed is that they consider the quality of life here to be the overriding factor driving their determination not to return to the UK. Despite economic difficulties it is still "a nice place to live". The weather is cited as a major factor by many; the lack of traffic and pollution is another; the coastal scenery and good beaches are quoted by many; the excellent health care is particularly emphasised by many elderly residents; and of course the friendliness of the vast majority of the locals. Many are clearly viewing the quality of life as a positive factor that continues to make them determined to ride out the economic storm.

The Age Concern meeting that we attended is held weekly on Tuesdays in Bar Pons, Cala en Porter, between 1000 and 1130. When we were there a group was playing Bingo and another was playing Scrabble. Alan Bailey was keen to point out that his organisation is willing to help and advise people of all ages here on Menorca; they do not wish to be seen as an organisation just for the more senior residents. Medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walking frames, crutches, commodes and walking sticks are loaned out to both residents and holiday visitors.

Money for such support is raised in a number of ways, the most visible of which is the Age Concern shop in c/ Cala Padera, Es Castell. One can also become a "Friend" of Age Concern and pledge an annual amount as a contribution. There are 400 such people on Menorca, the youngest aged eight.