You dont have to speak the language to hear the desperation in the old man’s voice.
We have boarded the subway train for the journey to Piraeus. A little old man shuffles up, then down the train, his arm outstretched proferring an empty plastic cup in hope that someone will place a few euros into it. He is somewhat dishevelled, grubby looking, possibly homeless. It’s my guess that he has probably spent some time rooting around in rubbish bins to find food which many people now do – such is the far reaching impact of the economic crisis here in Greece.
At Petralona he is replaced by yet another person asking for money, then a further person asking for support for the hospitals, and finally an accordion player.
Every country has always had, and increasingly does have its share of poor people. But the middle class, it seems, are also struggling. Middle income earners have suffered astronomical reductions in wages due to the hefty hike in tax and national insurance premiums. There is no government support for children, and scrupulously low time-limited unemployment benefit support, after which there is nothing. Employees have had to face cuts in salaries, else be fired.
Since the taxes – the ICA and TEVE have risen to astronomical proportions, people are barely surviving. The Greeks are indeed fighters: and a proud nation – but many have been brought to their knees. Further pressures have meant that further hardships have had to be endured. VAT stands at 24%. In the coming months it is likely that new taxes will surface. I heard that a new tax was being introduced for owning and maintaining a swimming pool.
Families who have saved for many years in the private pension fund with Commercial Union have seen their funds disappear. After years of paying into the Union, the funds have simply gone – it is likely that they have been embezzled by a Greek tycoon who has sent the money who knows where. Thankfully he has now been imprisoned. Of course there is no way of recovering the money – they will have to go without. It’s like rubbing salt into the wounds after all the suffering that has already been endured, there now won’t even be a pension to look forward to. To top it all off, I hear that many people have not been paid their salaries that they have worked hard for, for months. Is it possible for the situation to become any worse?
As I stare from the ferry window at the Piraeus Cultural Centre which looks as if it, too, has seen better days, I hope not.