The fact that the Labor Ministry decided to release in advance some of the positive figures included in the annual state report on poverty and social exclusion is probably related to the prime minister’s attempt to convince the party’s assembly of the government’s social sensitivity. The main element was that 17 percent of Greeks were living below the poverty line was in 1999, well down from 22 percent in 1997. The second aspect was that social spending as a percentage of GDP has increased in recent years, even though Greece has remained second from the bottom among European Union members, just ahead of Portugal. Greece, as echoed by the remarks of Labor Minister Tassos Yiannitsis at the conference of the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), is willing to allocate funds for specific action aimed at helping the most vulnerable segments of the population. Results so far, however, are not satisfactory. Poverty and social exclusion in Greece are particularly intense, while extreme levels of deprivation can also be found. The worst cases of poverty, no doubt, concern only a small minority of the population and necessitate urgent measures. But dealing with marginal cases is not the only issue. The government also has to tackle the broader and much more difficult problem of helping the weaker strata of the population, that is families living below the poverty line. Our society needs a flexible and effective network for fighting poverty and social exclusion, rather than giving indiscriminate handouts. The government must ensure that funds are channeled to those who genuinely need them, and not to those who are merely seeking ways to increase their income. Local communities know well which families are in genuine need, and for this reason they should, in some way, take part in monitoring those entitled to the funds. We can learn a lot from international experience on this issue. The cost of sustaining such a network is not prohibitive if the aid goes to those who really need it. What we lack is political will and courage rather than funds and methods. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of those who are better off do not care about the issue. This is more than a moral matter, as it undermines the country’s social cohesion.

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