Greece’s income inequalities among the highest in the EU

BRUSSELS – The well-known phrase, «the numbers prosper but the people are in poverty» – coined by George Papandreou, the grandfather of the current leader of the main opposition PASOK party – may belong to Greece’s past but poverty is still with us, affecting one in five of the country’s inhabitants, European Commission data showed yesterday. In a report on social protection in Europe, released yesterday in view of the EU spring summit on March 8 and 9, the Commission acknowledges that numbers do still prosper but so do people – by and large. However, a lot remains to be done in the quest for social convergence with the Union’s more advanced members. Greece appears to have one of the most inequitable distributions of wealth in the EU, with 20 percent of the population facing the «poverty risk» (with an annual per capita income of less than -5,650), even after taking into account the various forms of income support which stand slightly higher than the EU average of 16 percent. For people over 65, the difference with the rest of Europe widens, as the poverty risk for this age group approaches 28 percent – against an average of 18 percent. Greece also has one of the highest rates of «working poor» – or the really low paid – in Europe, at 13 percent. Unhappily, this is so despite all forms of social provisions and efforts to promote a welfare state that would not differ much from those of the other partners. In recent years, it has been recognized that it is necessary to readjust social policy and efforts are being made to improve the system of social protection, particularly as regards lessening the risk of social exclusion and poverty, the report said. A basic instrument toward this end is the National Action Plan, which sets three priorities: improving state services, promoting employment and fighting unemployment among the vulnerable groups by boosting their «employability,» and «securing decent socioeconomic living standards and high-quality social services for all, particularly as regards education, health, social insurance and protection systems,» the report said. The data show that eight of Greece’s 13 regions still have living standards below 75 percent of the EU average, «even though the strategic approach and the basic challenges that have been identified are steps in the right direction.» The Commission also points out that the country has still not instituted a «minimum national guaranteed income,» which has limited the impact of the measures adopted to lessen the poverty risk. Finally, it expresses the view that improving the education system is a matter of priority, as it continues to produce more individuals of «a low educational level» than the EU average, and has one of the highest rates of «people aged 15 with a low performance in reading ability.»