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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Pensioner count (Απογραφή)

I recently helped out two Greek pensioners: one wanted to get his pension reinstated, while the other one wanted to continue being paid her pension. The people involved are ordinary Greek folk who didn't understand what they had to do in order to maintain their pension payments, as this is the first time they have been confronted with proving their existence to the state. They didn't know who they had to speak to, what they had to say, or even where to go to ask for help about their pensions.

A friend's NZ pension (which is paid to him in Greece, where he lives) stopped in 2008. He didn't realise that he had to return a signed document called a Life Certificate to the NZ offices, ascertaining that he is alive. Not having anyone close to him to ask about this issue, he simply left it at that, thinking that the state had forgotten him. NZ has had this system in place for a number of years (proving your existence if you are a state beneficiary), to avoid benefit fraud. Once I helped him out with the paperwork (prompted by a visit from a Greek-Kiwi who realised that his brother hadn't returned his life certificate), all was well and he began once again to receive his pension.

Greece never had such a system in place, therefore in her recent past, Greece had a lot of unnecessary benefit fraud. Dead people's pensions continued to be paid and were being cashed by family members, able-bodied people were picking up disability pensions (notably, 'blind' people were caught driving cars) and people whose life circumstances had changed (eg their marital status/occupation etc changed) were continuing to pick up pensions and benefits they were not entitled to. It could be said to be a case of which came first: the fraudulent people, or the careless state. It takes two to tango.

This is the first time my 88-year-old mother-in-law has singed a document proving to the state that she is still alive and is entitled to continue receiving her pension.

The system in Greece is now catching up with the rest of the modern world. Pensioners and beneficiaries have to prove their status (ie "I am still alive", or "I really am disabled"). Somehow, with the help of someone, that have to prove their existence in order to continue to be paid state money, despite their disabilities or other health problems. This is no big deal in countries which already have such a system in place, and many things are done online too, as in the Greek-Kiwi's case; in my mother-in-law's case, though, it involved her leaving a familiar environment, which induced great fear in her mind, as if it were something that she could not do (she has mobility problems and walks with various aids).

But she is not the only one, as I have noticed in the last few weeks: old people are aided by various others to present themselves at the various authorities, and it is a very touching moment to watch the son or daughter help their mother or father into a bank or post office, sometimes with the help of a grandchild. It is also very moving to see how various officers help the helpless in any way they can, as in our case, where a bank officer printed all the documents and went out to the car, where we had parked in front of the bank, so that my mother-in-law didn't need to come out in the cold or climb stairs or get stuck with her walking frame in one of the safety cubicles at the bank entrance.

If ever there was a time when I could point to a moment when Greeks (in the most general sense) ruined Greece themselves, and their habits (as a whole) were unsustainable, and they needed a bout of austerity (if they weren't already living austerely) to get things under control again, this would be it. It is also a sign that the end of the old and decrepit is over and a new beginning is already in bud.

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