Greece was not ready to deal with the crisis when it came and the situation has worsened dramatically over the five years of economic decline, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development noted in a recent report, stressing the need for reforms that will protect society’s weakest. We were aware of this. But the observation that before the crisis large amounts of money went to wealthier citizens, at the expense of those who needed it most, raises serious questions as to the injustice at the heart of our society.
“The social protection system in Greece was ill-prepared for the economic and social crisis,” noted the report which was made public on Tuesday. “Before the crisis, Greece devoted nearly 30 percent of government outlays to social transfers, but much of this spending went to relatively well-off households. Since 2007/8, total spending on social protection and health fell by some 18 percent in real terms, compared to a 14 percent real-term increase in the average OECD country,” it added.
The report showed that in 2010, families in the 30 percent bracket of Greeks on the lowest incomes received 34 percent less than what the average family got, while those in the 30 percent bracket of the wealthiest households received 32 percent more. Only Italy, Mexico and Turkey among OECD members showed greater inequality. It is clear that our society was shaped by powerful interest groups which affected policies to their own benefit and at the expense of others. If we add the factor of tax evasion – where those who could get away with it did while wage-earners and pensioners bore the brunt – the picture of injustice is completed.
During the crisis, the reduction in funds spent on social needs and health has affected the poor more than others. Yet, as the report notes, Greece and Italy are the only European Union members that do not have a nationwide minimum-income benefit. This is why austerity and reforms frighten citizens so much – they have no sense of security. Frightened citizens cannot embrace change.
The OECD notes that in Greece, and despite the enormous increase in the need for public assistance, spending on people who are seeking work and low-income working families “is a fraction of that in a typical OECD country.” It stresses the need for targeted support for poorer households across the country, and suggests measures such as a safety net for the long-term unemployed, subsidized school meals, access to healthcare, opportunities for work and retraining.
In 2014 we expect programs that will support society’s weaker groups. As we move on, however, we must not forget the many years during which we tolerated a society that was founded on injustice. We did so without guilt, without a thought for the consequences.