A Greek Tragedy

I’ve been following the stories from Greece over the past couple of years as recession and euro crisis has hit with full force.  While I have a very perfunctory knowledge of economics (does an A level count?) and perhaps brush some of the details from my mind, it’s hard not to appreciate and empathise with the human cost of the austerity measures that are being driven though without a democratic mandate by the current Greek government, itself appointed.

Acropolis - Athens - Greece

I couldn’t fail though to be moved by the pictures that came in from Athens on Sunday night as the city burned while the politicians argued as they risked plunging Greece into ever sharper constraints demanded by the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to fund another bailout.

While sometimes it’s easy to think of numbers such as 130 Billion Euros as beyond imagination – when a number reaches such a great number it becomes an intellectual equivalent to an statement of infinity, the figure, unfortunately, is real and the debt will be met at considerable human cost.

It’s not going to be those politicians who vote on this matter that will be punished by these measures.

CNN lists some of the proposed ‘savings’ and we can see exactly where the ‘pain’ is going to be felt

• Reduce the minimum wage straight away from €751 ($989) to €600 ($790) per month. For those under 25, the minimum wage will be slashed by 32%

• Cut pension provision and include a “strict link between contributions and benefits”

• Make 15,000 public sector workers redundant by the end of the year.

So who is going to pay the highest price to the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission?

Those who have the least spare. The young, the unemployed (whose ranks will be growing with redundancies) and the pensioners.

We can joke about bloated public servants – and I won’t vouch for every one of those 15,000 jobs ( note that our own government does the same here) but public sector workers do have functions to serve and do work with people across all income brackets. These functions will be lost.

Again in the CNN article, chillingly, it is noted there are proposals to reduce spending on overtime of hospital doctors and make 1 billion euro savings on medication.

While there is a proposal to push through measures against tax evasion, that really is too little too late. The price is being paid by citizens for actions of previous governments and ruling classes who were more attentive to looking after their own then building better systems for their citizens.

As for the future, as well as the spectre of a move towards extremism across Europe as the impact of the bank-created recession builds there is likely to be more generations of emigrants of those most able to leave the countries that struggle the most. This will mean that those left behind struggle to a greater degree.

Unemployment in Greece is currently touching 21%. and it may yet defaulton the payments that have been demanded.

Caught between two evils, it’s hard to know or see a way out but there will be as there has to be.

We cannot ignore the pain inflicted on the southern fringes of Europe. Where Greece go, others may follow. Although we are not facing the same situations in the UK, the instinct of the ruling and political classes to save ‘their own’ at the expense of those who have least to give certainly rings true and while I doubt the empathy and solidarity of one social worker in the UK will have much significance to the people of Greece, it’s all I have to give. It seems so little.

Escaping Athens

 

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The Not So Big Society – Lessons from Greece

As regular readers will now, I’ve been using the title of this blog as an excuse to ponder the kind of social changes we’re going through, and what it will mean for the most vulnerable in society.

I’ve been reading a fascinating article about a Greek island, and how it’s been affected by the economic collapse in that country. I suspect that we’ve got further hardships to come here in the UK, so I was left wondering whether it might have any lessons for us in the near future.

The article describes the island of Samos, and it’s clearly been hit hard.

Evidence of the crisis, the lack of jobs and the absence of money in people’s pockets is everywhere. In the two major towns of the island, Vathi and Karlovassi, approximately a quarter of the shops are now closed. Most of those that remain open are offering such discounts that we assume it is a matter of time before they shut too.

A friend who has a tourist shop in Vathi thinks at least another six shops will close by Christmas, with more to follow soon after. In our village we have two tavernas – and they only survive because their owners take no income. What income can you take from only selling a few Greek coffees and some beer and ouzo in the evening?  Continue reading