The Ministry of Health in Athens is about a half mile away from Kotzia Square. It's not a ton of distance for a protest march to cover, but it was plenty yesterday for more than 2,000 Greek retirees angry about the affects Greek austerity measures are having on them.
The elderly marchers were demanding affordable healthcare and an end to ever-increasing pension cuts; since 2010, pensions have been slashed 60 percent while taxes have risen. The government is currently considering cutting pensions even further, and may raise the retirement age.
“My pension is not enough, I am waiting for pay day so that I can survive — that is what our life has been reduced to,” one protester said
'If I had saved all those [pension payments] in a bank account, I would be rich by now — where has it all gone?'
The Greek pension system was a mess even before the country's economic collapse, with cases of fraud reportedly rampant. To deal with the problem, the government has been actively trying to persuade pensioners to show up to a government office and prove that they exist — a tall order for some of the less spry amongst Greece's elderly population.
“If I had saved all those [pension payments] in a bank account, I would be rich by now — where has it all gone?” said one 64-year-old man who became homeless in 2011 when his pension was drastically cut, and who now relies on a shelter. “Every day, more and more elderly people arrive at the door asking for help, there are too many to count.”
According to Athens-based NGO Klimaka, of the estimated 20,000 homeless people in Greece today, 14,000 have become homeless in the past two years. Nearly half of the country’s homeless population have children.
Civil servants have also been hit hard by austerity measures, and they're also extremely unhappy about it. Over the past couple of years, they've led many of the protests and strikes in Greece, and this week they launched a two-day strike due of the looming 11,500 lay-offs of government employees planned for later this year. About 3,000 civil servants, including teachers and hospital workers, participated and carried banners that read: “We are people, not numbers.”