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Our View: Cutting ‘social pensions’ is wrong, but what’s the alternative?

OPPOSITION parties have launched a concerted attack on the government for its decision to impose income criteria for the granting of what has come to be known as a ‘social pension.’

President of the House Yiannakis Omirou described the decision as “impermissible, unacceptable and infuriatingly provocative,” while union chief Bambis Kyritsis said this was “another step towards the destruction of the welfare state.” A spokesman for the Greens pointed out that the targeting should not have been “on households but on the privileged of the system.”

Defending the decision, labour minister Zeta Emilianidou said that if the €10m cuts, included in the budget, were not made, later in the year the government would be unable to pay any of those eligible to social pensions. Finance minister Harris Georgiades thought the outcry was unjustified, as the government was spending plenty on benefits. It is one way of looking at it, but the minister, like the opposition parties, is fudging the issue.

We should take into account that the ‘social pension’ was introduced by the Clerides government in 1995 to help out female pensioners who had never made social insurance contributions because they were doing unpaid work, as housewives at home or on family-owned farms. Those eligible were receiving €365 per month, but by the government’s decision to target the pension, some 3,000 people would stop receiving it on the grounds that they could afford to live without it.

While the government’s approach might seem rational it is not and opposition parties are right to complain, even though they have failed to suggest how the government should raise the €10m needed. Once again, we come back to the main reason why the state has no money – the public sector payroll and pensions. Some three thousand pensioners will lose their pensions because the government has been pandering to the ultra-privileged public employees – civil servants, teachers, army officers, police, etc – giving them public assurances there would be no more cuts to wages, pensions and retirement bonuses in 2014.

The government could have saved the €10m by small cuts to the extortionate pensions it pays public employees, who until a couple of years ago were contributing nothing towards their pensions and hefty retirement bonuses. Why does a public employee need to be paid a €2,000 or €3,000 monthly pension by the taxpayer, while 3,000 people who were receiving €365 a month will now be paid nothing?

It is scandalously unjust and unfair but we have heard none of the outraged politicians say anything about this privileged class of citizens, for whose benefit everyone else suffers. The Greens spoke about the generous allowances paid to top state officials but were careful not to mention the public sector payroll and pensions, which is the root cause of all our problems. Unless these are substantially cut, the state will be unable to offer any support to the growing numbers of poor pensioners and the unemployed.

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