Many in rural areas live on fringes of society

Greeks are the poorest Europeans. Some 30 percent of Greeks live below the poverty line, compared to 22 percent of Europeans overall, according to European Union data. But the EKKE survey offers a more detailed picture of the bleak economic situation in this country. At present, paying for basic needs and overcoming poverty are the two biggest problems facing Greeks, says Dionysios Balourdos, a specialist in social exclusion and poverty in Greece. But this doesn’t mean that all poor people are destitute, he says. A closer analysis of the data shows that of 100 people who say that they have difficulty making ends meet, only six live in absolute poverty – defined as having an income which is 60 percent below the national average. This means the majority of Greeks who cannot pay their bills, buy enough food, pay for a week of annual vacation, and meet basic needs actually make an income above the poverty level. That translates into a total of 44.45 percent of Greek households living in relative or absolute poverty. Poor social network Not surprisingly, those who say they are socially excluded do not have strong social relationships. Some 8.4 percent say they have no support from social or familial circles around them. The percentage is unsettling if one considers how strong familial ties are in southern Europe and particularly in Greece. Researchers arrived at that percentage after analyzing responses to the following questions: Can you lean economically or emotionally on a member of your household or on relatives, friends or neighbors? If so, to what degree? Do you have a good relationship with your family, friends and neighbors? Do you go out often with friends? Only 42.1 percent of Greeks say they do not fall into any of the 11 social exclusion areas outlined by the EU. About 58 percent of Greeks say they fall into at least one category, while another 29.3 percent say they fall into two categories. Some 4.8 percent say they fall into at least four. That means almost 5 percent of Greeks have serious problems with social exclusion. «The percentage is especially high if one considers that the statistical sample is based on well-off members of the population,» Balourdos said. «If someone considers the particularly sensitive groups in society – those with special needs, the homeless, immigrants from (poorer) non-EU countries – the percentage of households who have a serious problem with social exclusion is even higher.» Retirees suffer The more social exclusion categories a person falls into, the lower his or her income, according to the data. The average income of a socially excluded individual is 12,508 euros (according to 2002 wages), whereas the average income of a socially excluded family is 23,547 euros. If a person meets at least one social exclusion category, his or her income drops to 8,745.60 euros. If a family meets at least one social exclusion category, their income drops to 15,261 euros. It’s notable that falling into at least one social exclusion category decreases income by about 30 percent. For those who fall into at least two categories, the financial situation is bleaker, dragging an annual income to about 6,330 euros for individuals and 10,806 for families. Go to three categories, and those numbers drop to 4,936 and 7,545 respectively. «The smaller the income, the more complex, multifaceted and unfavorable social inclusion is,» Balourdos said. Retirees are the main victims of social exclusion. In Greece, 70.74 percent of income comes from wages, 23.13 percent from pensions, and 2.91 percent from social welfare programs, such as unemployment or disability benefits and academic benefits such as scholarships. Another 3.2 percent of income comes from property or tax benefits. Of those Greeks who are poor and socially excluded, 42.2 percent earn wages while another 41.6 percent get retirement benefits. The more disadvantages a person encounters, the worse his social exclusion. For example, retirees comprise 49 percent of those who meet two or three social exclusion categories. Rural Greece also has serious problems with social exclusion. Epirus has the highest percentage of people socially excluded due to poverty, at 32.27 percent. Central Greece has the highest percentage of people who struggle to meet basic needs (32.8 percent). Serious problems with housing plague 14.15 percent of people on Crete, 13.7 percent in the northern Aegean, and 12 percent in the Ionian Islands. In eastern Macedonia and Thrace, there is a high rate of poverty (28.2 percent) and a lack of education (20.4 percent). Lack of medical coverage and retirement benefits is the highest there, at 8.4 percent, than any other area of the country. Overall, Attica fares better than the rest of Greece. About 21 percent of people cannot meet basic needs, 11.7 percent live in poverty and 6.9 percent lack basic education. However, more people – 16.7 percent – in Attica live in poor-quality housing.