By Lefteris Papadimas
Several hundred elderly Greeks marched through Athens on Thursday, protesting against a government they say “took everything” with a new round of cuts to pensions and crumbling health care benefits.
Greece’s three bailouts since 2010 have repeatedly taken aim at the pension system. Cuts have pushed nearly half its elderly below the poverty line with incomes of less 600 euros ($710.70) a month.
With nearly a quarter of the workforce unemployed, a quarter of children living in poverty and benefits slashed, parents have grown dependent on grandparents for handouts.
But after the cuts to pensions, some Greeks have seen their monthly cheque fall between 40 and 50 percent in seven years. After rent, utility bills and health care, they barely make ends meet.
“I have never seen the country in this state, not even during the war,” said 80-year-old Nikos Georgiadis, a former hotel employee whose pension has been reduced by 40 percent.
“Pensioners are impoverished, and not only can they not afford to buy medicines, some are looking for food in the trash,” he said, leaning on a tree to catch his breath.
New changes to pension regulations mean more cuts are expected in 2019. Pensioners also have to pay more out of pocket for health care.
Fotini Karavidou, a 75-year-old retired accountant who joined the march in a wheelchair, said she had to “cut back on everything” to afford medicine.
“It’s simple – many pensioners cannot afford to eat and to buy medicine,” said Yiannis Karadimas, 67, who heads a local pensioners association.
Karadimas said it was “a joke” that the government had legalised marijuana for medical purposes while cutting back on health care spending.
“They’re killing us and they’re mocking us at the same time,” he said.
The popularity of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has waned since he first won elections in 2015. In an effort to rebuild public support, the government gave Greece’s 1.3 million pensioners a one-off Christmas bonus last year, worth 300 to 500 euros each.
But the handouts have failed to whip up any obvious increase in support. Pensioners have taken to the streets time and again in recent months. About 2,000 people joined Thursday’s march.
“Unfortunately, I voted for them, and they turned out to be the biggest liars of all,” Georgiadis, the pensioner, said. “It (the government) promised us everything, and it took everything.”