Tsipras shifts to welfare agenda

Tsipras shifts to welfare agenda

In an attempt to offset the political cost of the latest batch of tough fiscal measures, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday blamed his government’s failure to fulfill its pre-election promises with regard to social policy, on the shambolic state of affairs left behind by his predecessors.

“We undertook to govern a bankrupt and socially-pillaged country,” he said, unveiling a new batch of measures as part of a “new welfare state” to help weaker social groups. His remarks came as the government grapples with another blow to its leftist credentials, dealt by the abolition of the so-called EKAS allowance – currently paid to 380,000 retirees on low pensions until it is gradually phased out by 2019.

The new initiative – after the announcement of a growth plan and the effort to push through a review of the Constitution and changes to the electoral law – is seen as a bid by Tsipras to divert the public debate away from the tough measures his government is implementing as part of the third bailout agreed to last summer.

However, the PM’s proposals – unveiled after chairing a meeting of the Council of Social Policy – remain a far cry from the pledges made before the SYRIZA-led government came to power.

The offsetting measures would cost just under 50 million euros for this year, according to initial estimates. They would apply to around 158,000 pensioners on low incomes who have lost all or a portion of their EKAS benefit since June. The amount saved through the cuts for this year is around 200 million euros.

Tsipras said he hoped that authorities will be able to introduce the same offsetting measures next year. Social insurance experts indicated that this would burden state coffers by 120 million euros.

Specifically, the measures heralded by Tsipras on Wednesday include exempting all pensioners who have seen their EKAS benefit cut from having to pay contributions when they buy medicines; those who lost more than 30 euros from their monthly EKAS payment will be exempted from paying the 6 percent healthcare contributions made by other pensioners; those whose monthly EKAS was cut by more than 115 euros will be automatically issued with a solidarity card which entitles them to subsidized food purchases; those with more than 80 percent disability will be reimbursed the funds they have lost in EKAS cuts; and, in situations where both spouses have lost their EKAS benefit, one of the two will have it restored.

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