From top: Busking in Athens, Greece; Julien Mercille
The most vulnerable people in the European Union will bear the brunt of the failure of austerity.
For years to come.
From Greece, Dr Julien Mercille writes:
The inhumanity of austerity is made particularly clear through the pain it inflicts on children. This is especially true in Greece, where children have absorbed much of the negative effects of the troika’s assault on the country.
As I write this, in Athens, the Children’s Hospital Aglaia Kyriakou’s radiotherapy department for children with cancer is at risk of closing due to lack of funding. The centre is reportedly unique in Greece for the type of treatments it offers.
The troika should reflect on its responsibility in this state of affairs. And so should Enda Kenny, who has sided unashamedly with Brussels and Berlin in negotiations with Greece. This is why Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, described Ireland as one of Greece’s “most energetic enemies”.
Children will suffer the consequences of austerity for years to come, with their lives likely affected permanently. This is because living in households affected by unemployment or large drops in income means a deterioration of their diets; increased levels of stress; some humiliations in front of friends and classmates; difficulty in doing well at school; and so on.
Unsurprisingly, those impacts are not measured with any degree of urgency. The most recent data often goes back to 2012 and in some cases to 2013. Contrast this with the flood of economic and financial information released daily and monthly and you begin to understand what matters to those in power.
A Unicef report from last year based on official data paints a dark picture of children’s suffering in Greece and in other developed countries due to austerity.
Surveying 41 affluent countries, it states that since 2008, 2.6 million children have entered poverty on a net basis, for a total of about 76.5 million in all countries surveyed. It concludes that the Great Recession ‘had the greatest impact on the weakest, and possibly for the longest time… The progress made in education, health and social protection over the last 50 years is now at stake’.
Also, youth unemployment has skyrocketed. Compared to 2008, there are now 1 million extra young people not in education, employment or training in Europe, for a total of 7.5 million. This ‘epidemic of youth unemployment’ is a ‘pathology of austerity’.
Greece consistently ranks among the worst affected countries. Add to this the fact that the situation now is undoubtedly much worse because the report is based on data that is two or three years old, and the picture is even darker.
The report compared how various indicators changed between 2008 and 2012. Here are some key results.
Child poverty increase: Greece comes 40th out of 41 countries (i.e., almost the worst one). Greece’s child poverty rate zoomed from 23% to 40.5%. Countries that did better include Mexico, Chile, Estonia, Lithuania and Turkey, which would not be considered as developed or European as Greece. Ireland is ranked 37th with an increase of almost 11 percentage points, from 18% to 28.6%.
Youth unemployment increase: The youth unemployment rate (for 15-24 year olds) has gone up in Greece and currently stand at over 50%. Greece also ranks 40th in terms of its worsening rate of youth who are not in education, employment or training (NEET), which increased almost 9 percentage points, from 11.7% in 2008 to 20.6% in 2013.
[The unemployment rate of 50% is higher than the NEET rate because the latter divides the number of NEET youth by the total population in their age group, whereas the unemployment rate divides the number of unemployed youth by the number of youth who are part of the labor force, a smaller number than the total number of youth because those in education are not counted as part of the labor force].
Severe material deprivation increase: The rate doubled in Greece to reach over 20%, a worsening surpassed only by Hungary in Europe. Children are considered to be severely materially deprived when they live in households that cannot afford 4 of 9 determined items such as paying rent, keeping the house warm, eating meat or proteins regularly, etc.
For example, since 2008, the percentage of households with children not able to afford a meal with meat, fish, chicken or a vegetable equivalent has more than doubled, reaching 18% in 2012.
Four questions were asked to people in the 41 countries on the subject “how has your life changed between 2007 and 2013?” as follows:
(1) Do most children in your country have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, or not?
(2) Are there times in the last year that you have not had enough money to buy food for your family?
(3) Did you experience stress today?
(4) Overall satisfaction with life?
Overall, Greece ranked 41st, and the ranks per question were (1) 41st, (2) 39th, (3) 39th, (4) 41st. Ireland ranked 38th overall. Clearly, austerity is not a success.
In short, our political leaders like to take pictures with kids when they run for election. That makes them look gentle, generous and considerate. However, the facts speak for themselves. Children are not a priority, and the European establishment couldn’t care less about them.
Julien Mercille is a member of the Irish Greek Solidarity Committee. His new book, Deepening Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Crisis: Europe’s Treasure Ireland (Palgrave) is out this month. Follow him on twitter: @JulienMercille