PM shifts to wel­fare agenda

Af­ter un­pop­u­lar cuts to low pen­sions, Tsipras her­alds se­ries of off­set­ting mea­sures to lighten aus­ter­ity

Kathimerini English - - Front Page -

In an at­temptto off­set the po­lit­i­cal cost of the lat­est batch of tough fis­cal mea­sures, Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras yes­ter­day blamed his govern­ment’s failure to ful­fill its pre-elec­tion prom­ises with re­gard to so­cial pol­icy, on the sham­bolic state of af­fairs left be­hind by his pre­de­ces­sors.

“We un­der­took to gov­ern a bank­rupt and so­cially-pil­laged coun­try,” he said, un­veil­ing a new batch of mea­sures as part of a “new wel­fare state” to help weaker so­cial groups. His re­marks came as the govern­ment grap­ples with an­other blow to its left­ist cre­den­tials, dealt by the abo­li­tion of the so-called EKAS al­lowance – cur­rently paid to 380,000 re­tirees on low pen­sions un­til it is grad­u­ally phased out by 2019.

The new ini­tia­tive – af­ter the an­nounce­ment of a growth plan and the ef­fort to push through a re­view of the Con­sti­tu­tion and changes to the elec­toral law – is seen as a bid by Tsipras to di­vert the pub­lic de­bate away from the tough mea­sures his govern­ment is im­ple­ment­ing as part of the third bailout agreed to last sum­mer.

How­ever, the PM’s pro­pos­als – un­veiled af­ter chair­ing a meet­ing of the Coun­cil of So­cial Pol­icy – re­main a far cry from the pledges made be­fore the SYRIZA-led govern­ment came to power.

The off­set­ting mea­sures would cost just un­der 50 mil­lion eu­ros for this year, ac­cord­ing to ini­tial es­ti­mates. They would ap­ply to around 158,000 pen­sion­ers on low in­comes who have lost all or a por­tion of their EKAS ben­e­fit since June. The amount saved through the cuts for this year is around 200 mil­lion eu­ros.

Tsipras said he hoped that au­thor­i­ties will be able to in­tro­duce the same off­set­ting mea­sures next year. So­cial in­sur­ance ex­perts in­di­cated that this would bur­den state cof­fers by 120 mil­lion eu­ros.

Specif­i­cally, the mea­sures her­alded by Tsipras yes­ter­day in­clude ex­empt­ing all pen­sion­ers who have seen their EKAS ben­e­fit cut from hav­ing to pay con­tri­bu­tions when they buy medicines; those who lost more than 30 eu­ros from their monthly EKAS pay­ment will be ex­empted from pay­ing the 6 per­cent health­care con­tri­bu­tions made by other pen­sion­ers; those whose monthly EKAS was cut by more than 115 eu­ros will be au­to­mat­i­cally is­sued with a sol­i­dar­ity card which en­ti­tles them to sub­si­dized food pur­chases; those with more than 80 per­cent dis­abil­ity will be re­im­bursed the funds they have lost in EKAS cuts; and, in sit­u­a­tions where both spouses have lost their EKAS ben­e­fit, one of the two will have it re­stored.

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