NEWS

Benefits package today

The government is today expected to announce a series of measures aimed at helping weaker social groups, at an estimated cost of up to 1.5 billion euros, in a major effort to sway public opinion in the runup to elections, which must be held by next spring. PM Costas Simitis met yesterday with National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis and PASOK General Secretary Michalis Chrysochoidis to put the finishing touches on a package of measures that the Cabinet will discuss today. Sources said that the measures include a 7 percent increase in unemployment benefits, a rise of 30-35 euros in farmers’ monthly pensions, a monthly increase of 25-30 euros in low-income pensions and subsidies for people with special needs. Furthermore, unemployed women who are heads of families or have three or more children will be helped through businesses being encouraged to hire them (with the State reducing tax on their wages), relieving women farmers of having to pay social security fees for a year for each child, and students will receive 100-150 euros in monthly rent subsidies and low-interest loans. «All of these policies have one aim: to increase not only development but also employment and to strengthen social solidarity and cohesion,» Christodoulakis told reporters after yesterday’s meeting. The conservative New Democracy party, which is leading Simitis’s PASOK in the polls, has been focusing on what it calls the government’s lack of credibility. It says the measures are aimed at swaying public opinion ahead of the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair that begins on Friday. ND leader Costas Karamanlis, meeting with the boards of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) and of the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece (SVVE), reportedly expressed confidence in his electoral victory and indicated that he will not promise handouts. «What I announce at the trade fair, I will make happen. I will not go there next year to promise the same things and make excuses for what I did not do,» he said. ND’s head of planning, Giorgos Souflias, commented, «With borrowed money, because the budget does not allow otherwise, the government will give pensioners and the unemployed one euro per day, after its looting of citizens with the high cost of living, tax rampages and abysmal social services.»