Fighting poverty

The tabling of the budget is almost invariably accompanied by heated debate. Members of Parliament are more than willing to indulge in fierce battles with each other over macroeconomic indicators. Criticism from opposition cadres is usually driven by the sole aim of proving that their political faction did a better job in the economy when it was in power. One cannot help wondering, however, whether Socialist officials have full awareness of the impact that their decisions had on society. Indeed, the Socialist deputies and former ministers who now lash out at the conservative policymakers are blind to the fact that their near-20-year rule actually accentuated class divisions in the country. The data published today in Kathimerini English Edition are extremely interesting and, in some cases, highly revealing of existing social conditions. The information, which is drawn from studies conducted by the European Union’s Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General, Greece’s National Statistics Service (NSS), and the National Center for Social Research (EKKE), all provide a very sobering picture of the people’s financial condition. It should prompt some very serious thinking about the budget and the dogmatic reproduction of economic recipes by the various financial institutions. Do PASOK officials indeed feel proud of their achievements when the wealthiest 10 percent of Greeks now receive a bigger income than the poorest 50 percent put together? Are they satisfied with the fact that Greece has the second highest percentage (20 percent) in the former 15-member European Union of people below the poverty line? Another «accomplishment» of the former Socialist government, and at the same time a sign of its catastrophic handling of the transition to the euro currency, is the unexpected finding that Greece is the second most expensive country of the former 15 member states. A pan-European survey by the European Commission found that Greek consumers are charged the second highest prices for 82 basic consumer items. Moreover, the Socialist administration should be held responsible for the suffocating strain on the middle classes, who have to resort to borrowing to preserve the same living standards. Borrowing in the form of credit cards, personal and consumer loans, skyrocketed by 285 percent (from 5.5 to 15.7 billion euros) between 2000 and September 2004. As a result, 24 percent of Greeks are now in debt, compared to the far lower 16 percent average among the former 15 EU members. This dire situation presents the government with a daunting challenge. The administration’s effectiveness in reversing these figures is a fundamental criterion on which its performance will be judged.