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Economic hardship worsens for Greeks despite easing recession

[ATHENS] More than 20 per cent of Greeks could not afford basic comforts last year, nearly double the number in 2010 when the country's debt crisis exploded, data showed on Monday.

In its study of Greek living standards for 2013, statistics agency ELSTAT said it was not just poor people who could no longer afford basic necessities, such as being able to keep their homes warm or pay basic expenses.

Greece's six-year recession, exacerbated by fiscal austerity demanded by its international creditors, has wiped out about a quarter of the economy and sent unemployment up to nearly 28 per cent, triggering mass protests.

The study showed that 20.3 per cent of Greeks could not afford at least four out of nine conditions that define economic hardship, including a one-week vacation or eating chicken or meat every other day.

Nearly a third could not afford to keep their homes warm last year, a frequent complaint after the government raised taxes on heating oil to boost state coffers amid the crisis. "The lack of basic goods such as a washing machine, colour TV, a car and difficulty in meeting loan payments does not only affect the poor population but also a section of those who are not poor," ELSTAT said.

More than a third of the population with consumer debt had a hard time servicing their loans, the study showed, highlighting why Greek banks continue to struggle with bad loans.

The drop in living standards was more pronounced among Greeks below the age of 64, ELSTAT said.

The country does appear to be turning the corner after reducing its budget holes, but recovery is expected to be gradual.

The economy is bottoming out, with Athens and its EU/IMF lenders projecting it will pull out of recession and grow 0.6 per cent this year. REUTERS