State benefits fail to reach the very poor

The government’s policy of providing small aid amounts to the poorest of Greek citizens is failing because, on average, less than one in 10 people actually receive the subsidies. Authorities are concerned about this situation and attribute it to two causes: First, the fact that the poorest of the poor lack access to information and, second, that the procedures required to get the benefits actively discourage some of the would-be recipients from seeking them out. This concern follows the publication of a European Commission report yesterday criticizing Greece for the ineffectiveness of its anti-poverty policies, which, it says, only marginally help to pull people above the poverty level. Examples of benefits that failed to reach the intended recipients include the one given to long-term unemployed aged 45-65, the income support provided to poor households and the «school» benefit given to such households depending on the number of children. The allowance given to the long-term unemployed is 150 euros per month and is given when the regular unemployment benefit expires, after 12 months. The intended number of recipients was about 35,000, but only 3,000 of those applied to receive the benefit. The government now wants to raise the allowance to 200 euros and relax the eligibility conditions somewhat. To receive such a benefit, recipients’ annual household income must now be lower than 5,000 euros, up from the previous maximum of 3,000 euros. Recipients would also receive the benefit even if they have worked an, as yet unspecified, number of days during the first 12 months of unemployment. The income support provided to poor households targets individuals and families with a total annual income of less than 2,200 euros and ranges from 300 to 600 euros annually. The school benefit, 300 euros for each child attending school, targets families with incomes less than 3,000 euros. The government had estimated a total of 275,000 households as recipients. Instead, only about 30,000 received the aid last year. The Labor Ministry has not yet announced plans to remedy this situation. More importantly, it has not yet figured out how such benefits will reach all these people they target. Despite the low level of benefits, the EU has also said the government is failing to provide enough incentives for the unemployed to seek jobs.