Cyprus Mail

Our View: GMI helping to alleviate at least some poverty this Christmas

THIS WILL be another difficult Christmas for many people living in Cyprus. With the number of jobless still at very high levels and hundreds of families depending on charities for their Christmas dinner, talk about the season to be merry comes with a hollow ring. For too many people this could be the third or fourth successive year they will have been unable to celebrate Christmas as they did in the years of prosperity and easy bank credit.
At least this year the state has put in place a safety net, providing welfare payments to more than 4,000 households thanks to the introduction of the guaranteed minimum income (GMI), which was a bold initiative but came under intense criticism from the parties because it was funded through cuts in other welfare benefits. However it was an imperative given the economic conditions which do not look like improving very soon.
The recession is set to continue, and long-term unemployment – unheard of in Cyprus until a few years ago and the reason unemployment benefit was paid for only six months – has become a permanent feature of the economy. This was why a major rethink and reformulation of welfare policy was necessary. It may have weaknesses but these will eventually be addressed as the objective, ultimately, is to leave nobody in genuine need without welfare support.
AKEL and its union have reported that many payments had not been made on time, some benefits were too low and that not all applications had been processed. We do not know the extent of the delays, but this was a very difficult task, considering the bureaucrats had process some 16,000 applications and examine each one, as there greedy individuals who had tried to cheat the authorities. According to labour minister Zeta Emilianidou, close to 5,000 applications were rejected because applicants did not meet the criteria. Some applicants had big amounts of cash in the bank – some as much as a million euro – or property worth hundreds of thousands of euro.
She said some had failed to give the numbers of all their bank accounts, in an attempt to deceive the state, but checks by officials revealed their true financial standing; these checks were the main reason it took so long for all applications to be processed. The government should pass legislation that provides for the punishment of welfare cheats, because there will always be dishonest people trying to take money they are not entitled to from the state.
Although work still needs to be done GMI, was a commendable undertaking thanks to which many of our less fortunate fellow citizens will not feel totally neglected by society this Christmas.

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