Seven years later, Greece’s economic and financial crisis shows no sign of respite. The new aid measure, amounting to 8.5 bln EUR, decided by the Eurogroup on June 15, is but a breath of fresh air enabling Athens to repay the debt with IMF and ECB totalling 6.5 bln. Greece’s pitch dark tunnel is strewn with the figures of the First Caritas Greece Report on Poverty and Social Exclusion for the period 2014-2015, recently published also in English. The Report is a result of data and daily experiences collected in 7 of the 11 Greek dioceses, in conjunction with the Studies Office of Caritas Italy, uploaded on the online database of Ospoweb, statistics portal of Caritas Italy.
The figures. In order to address the crisis, Greece is attempting to undertake the path of austerity. The Greek economy financial bailout package meant to avert the risk of Sovereign default, is granted by the Troika (International Monetary Fund, EU, European Central Bank) on the condition that the Greek government adopts restrictive budget policies on austerity based on sharp reductions in public spending, tax increases and, above all, the reduction of wages by 10% to 40%.
Average wages, amounting to 22.729 EUR 2009, have dropped to 18.411 EUR in 2014. The number of unemployed rose from 402.000 in the last semester of 2008 to 1.241.000 in the last semester of 2014, and then gradually declined to 1.175.000 in the last semester of 2015. At the end of 2015 the unemployment rate reached 24.9% (it was 7.8% in 2008). Workers’ income reduction resulted in the impoverishment of families: in the period 2010-2014 the purchasing power of the minimum wage required by law decreased by 24.9% for adult workers and 34.5% for young people up to 25 years old. At the end of 2014 21.2% of workers were at poverty risk (working poor), while in 2010 they amounted to 18.0%. The most frequent problem/need registered by Caritas Greece is economic poverty (80.2% of all those seeking Caritas assistance), followed by job-related difficulties (60.9%). The high percentage of housing problems (36.7%) and health issues, which affect almost one in four (23.8%), are of major concern. Moreover, economic poverty and housing problems have a greater impact on foreigners. Unemployment is a major problem for the Greek population (69.0%). Healthcare problems involving 39.9% of Greeks (compared to 20.0% of foreign users) are equally worrying.
The Caritas Greece Report shows that requests for material goods and services is the primary need (as many as 86.0%). Other forms of requests have registered much lower numbers. Second in the list is the request for economic subsidies (16.4%): the low figures are due to the fact that Greek aid centres cannot give cash money but only provide for the payment of utility bills or taxes.
A vulnerable Country. Maria Koutatzi, in charge of the Social Policies department of Caritas Hellas, said in clear terms:
“It’s a very dark stage of the crisis. Ours is a vulnerable Country that nobody wants to invest in.
The suffering of the population increases day after day as a result of the recession. The middle class has virtually disappeared and large segments of the population live under the poverty line. Wages have been reduced to the minimum and in many cases there is no social protection for workers, many of whom are unregistered. Living conditions are slightly better in rural areas, owing to the cultivation of land products and because of increased solidarity.” Koutatzi identified the youth bracket as the one most affected by the crisis, along with workers over-50, for whom “the Government failed to adopt dedicated measures. Unemployment benefits are granted for only a few months. Those who loose their jobs are also stripped of their health insurance, except for emergencies and hospital admission.” Equally serious concerns involve
old people who struggle to survive despite pension cuts that in some cases have escalated to 50-60%.
Many of them are too old to re-enter the job market.” However, added the Caritas coordinator, “figures show that many families – three generations – live on the income of pensioners living in the same household.” Finding a job is a primary need: “People want to work, they don’t want to depend on others. Works gives dignity and self-esteem. Caritas has no jobs to offer but we try to establish a connection between offer and demand.”
Austerity does not pay. “You don’t need a degree in economics to understand that you can spend money only when you have it – Koutatzi concluded – people are on their last legs. The facts show that
Austerity does not pay
Instead, what is needed, for an example, is the fair distribution of taxes, paid by everyone. Indeed, as Greeks we all have our share of responsibility, which we are paying for.
I hope that Europe will learn the lesson of the Greek crisis by proposing new lifestyles, more humble, based on solidarity, on the welcome of the poor and of refugees. Everyone must reach the same level of wellbeing. It’s time to end the war among the poor.”