Europe

Greece debt crisis: The cost to pensioners

An elderly man is crying outside a national bank branch as pensioners queue to get their pensions, with a limit of 120 euros, in Thessaloniki on 3 July, 2015. Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption One man was photographed crying outside a bank in Thessaloniki on Friday morning

It is a scene that speaks of suffering and exhaustion, and one that may well become the lasting image of the Greek debt crisis.

An elderly man, sitting on the ground outside a bank, was photographed crying on Friday morning.

The image, taken in Thessaloniki by AFP's Sakis Mitrolidis, was widely shared on social media as soon as it was published.

The man, whose name was not published, was helped away soon after it was taken.

His story is not known, but those of plenty of other pensioners are.

Monthly pensions have gone down to an average of €833 ($924; £594) from an average of €1,350 in 2009, according to INE-GSEE, the institute behind Greece's biggest union.

When the Greek government announced that banks would shut for the week, starting last Monday, they put a cap on withdrawal from cash machines of €60 a day.

But that left many pensioners who did not have bank cards in the lurch.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Many pensioners were turned away from banks when they went to withdraw their funds

On Wednesday, 1,000 bank branches re-opened to allow pensioners a one-off weekly withdrawal of €120: the equivalent of what those with bank cards could withdraw in two days.

Hundreds turned up at some branches. Those who could withdraw money had to make do with the €120 - before this week, they could withdraw their entire pension at once.

Reports said many pensioners waited outside branches from before dawn, only to be told withdrawals were being done alphabetically. Many were then asked to return on the following days.

Konstantinos Nikolopoulos, 70, was told by his bank that his pension was unavailable. "They told me they don't know when they will have the money and asked me to come again tomorrow just in case," he said.

"This situation is out of control."


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Media captionThe 83 year old compares Greece's current situation to the Nazi occupation

How bad are things for Greece's pension fund?


Greece has worked to reform its pension system over the last few years, and to weed out corrupt claims for money.

In August 2011, it was discovered that 1,473 people had received pensions totalling millions of dollars - despite being dead.

A series of reforms and tighter control on spending in recent years also led to improvements, with Greece spending 2% less of its GDP on pensions in 2014 than 2012 and, according to Allianz, it no longer has the world's poorest-performing pensions fund.

But pensions remained one of the main obstacles in negotiations between creditors and the Greek government in recent months. Before January's election, the man who became prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, campaigned with a promise not to cut pensions again.


Is the Greek retirement age generous?

Average age of retirement for men in 2012

United States: 65

United Kingdom: 63.7

Germany: 62.1

Greece: 61.9

France: 59.7

Belgium: 59.6

Source: OECD


Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Vallia (left), a 75-year-old pensioner from Athens, waits for her pension at the National Bank of Greece

In exchange for getting more cash freed up, creditors want Greece to quickly phase out a top-up payment it gives to close to 200,000 of the country's poorest pensioners, something Athens has resisted.

Many feel enough is enough.

Zina Ravi, 79, relies entirely on her pension and says she is still in debt every month.

She is one of the high numbers of Greeks claiming a pension - and is having to help a middle-aged son who is now one of many unemployed Greeks.

"I am always in debt," she told Reuters. "I can't even imagine going to the cinema or the theatre like I did in the past."

One retired seaman, struggling to afford medicine for his wife, told AFP: "I worked for 50 years on the sea and now I am the beggar for €120."