OPINION

A social bane

A fifth of the Greek population lives on an income beneath the poverty line, namely 60 percent of the average wage. That is the basic conclusion of a survey based on a sample of 10,930 households that was conducted according to Eurostat rules in 2003 by the National Statistics Service (NSS) and the National Center for Social Research (EKKE). In a total Greek population of 10,260,169 individuals, the poor number 2,165,000, of whom 15.7 percent are workers, 28 percent unemployed, 26.3 percent pensioners and 23.5 percent belong to other categories of economically inactive individuals. The number is far too high to warrant indifference. On the contrary, it underlines the need for the government and other responsible bodies to intensify efforts to tackle this social bane. All the more so when an eloquent comparative graph reveals the virtual absence of a welfare state in Greece, apart from pensions. In the EU overall, the average poverty rate is 40 percent without social benefits. Including pensions, it falls to 24 percent, and down to 15 percent when welfare state benefits are also taken into account. In Greece, the figure is 38 percent without social benefits and 22 percent with pensions, but falls only to 21 percent when other social benefits are taken into account, indicating that they are practically non-existent. This is clearly apparent in the case of large families, as 36.6 percent of families with four children and 55.2 percent of those with five or more children live below the poverty line, thus the state aid they receive is ineffectual, to put it mildly. Of the poor households surveyed, 90.5 percent find it difficult to meet basic necessities, while 80 percent cannot get loans of any kind to help pay for goods and services, as they cannot repay them. This is not a pleasant state of affairs, and even though the non-inclusion of the para-economy in the survey leaves some room for hope that the situation is marginally better, most capital from the para-economy is absorbed by the haves. The general rise in prosperity means that many of us do not realize that a considerable portion of society remains poor. If only the NSS-EKKE survey could help raise awareness and mobilize the government.