The social gap

Negotiations between the conservative-led government and the troika are centered on ways to bridge an anticipated fiscal gap of about 2.5 billion euros for 2015. It’s here that the government has drawn a so-called red line because it knows that further income cuts or another tax hike would take a devastating toll ahead of the next national election – which may in fact be held in the coming months.

That said, the fate of Greece’s power-sharing administration hinges more on the social gap, in other words the fact that notwithstanding the painful and unpleasant decisions that it has had to implement, it has failed to ease the suffering with measures that would improve people’s day-to-day lives.

Whether it is the fault of the government or of state organizations (which are, of course, monitored by governments), we have yet to see measures that would better the services that every citizen needs, measures which, regardless of the price tag, would be aimed at raising people’s living standards. This need became evident from the beginning of the crisis and the austerity policies that followed. Take the example of public transport. Given that people would not be able to afford to drive or take a taxi as before, the quality of public transport would obviously have to be improved. If lines at bus stops are any guide, efforts to serve the soaring number of passengers leave much to be desired. Little has been done to improve things in other sectors such as the judicial system or education. In fact, things appear to have regressed. People are suffering, not just from waning incomes and soaring taxes. Procedures have become more complex. Public sector staffs shrink as the workload soars. The authorities keep issuing decisions and circulars which rather than simplifying procedures, only make things more complicated. Often they are contradictory. Overall, there is the sense that we have lost too much, that people’s sacrifices have gone to waste.

Spending cuts should come hand in hand with efforts at better organization and improving services. It would be a great comfort if dealing with the state became more simple and more practical, if employees became more helpful and polite. That would also bolster the idea that the country’s efforts are paying off, that on top of tidying up our economy, we are also transforming the relationship between the state and citizen.

The public debate has been mostly reduced to troika demands and our response. Everyone just keeps talking about people’s sacrifices: “They must not go to waste,” says the government, while the opposition suggests they were all in vain.

Amid the fuss, all sides seem to ignore the things we ought to have changed before the troika first arrived. No one talks about the things that made us unhappy before the crisis. Our quality of life, however, largely depends on these regardless of what party is in power.