Over the past two decades, Greece has suffered significant economic and social upheaval. After an economic depression and an ongoing refugee crisis, the country now faces a new threat: the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Greece. The country’s crisis-prompted grassroots culture provides support during another economic setback.
The Economic Crisis in Greece
Following the global financial crisis in 2008, Greece found itself in extreme debt to lenders, specifically Germany and the European Union, forcing Greece to adhere to strict austerity measures such as cutting pensions and increasing taxes. During this period of austerity, Greece’s economy shrank, unemployment rose and poverty soared. In 2017, one-third of the Greek population lived below the poverty line and the unemployment rate was 22%.
Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Greece
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece’s economy experienced a period of significant recovery and GDP was on the rise. However, Greece fell into another recession due to the economic fallout in 2020 prompted by COVID-19. As schools closed, businesses shut down and economic activity came to a halt, unemployment and poverty rose substantially.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission estimated that 30% of people in Greece were “at risk of poverty or social exclusion.” While 2020 data has not yet been analyzed, it is clear that the pandemic sent shock waves through Greece’s slowly recovering economy.
According to an MDPI survey conducted across Greek cities just after the country’s lockdown period in May 2020, 73.3% of respondents said that lockdowns and restrictions significantly impacted them financially. Furthermore, about 9% of respondents experienced job losses and 18.6% received suspensions from work due to the implications of COVID-19.
Migrant workers feel the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Greece acutely. While most migrant workers are from Albania, others hail from countries like Bangladesh. With government restrictions and limitations on exports, the need for export labor has decreased and earning a daily wage has become increasingly difficult for these workers. In 2020, the unemployment rate stood at 16.85%. Greece currently holds the highest unemployment rate in the E.U.
Grassroots Efforts During COVID-19
While COVID-19 has worsened conditions for the country’s most vulnerable, Greece’s experience with past crises has paved the way for a strong grassroots response. Organizations like the ANKAA Project and O Allos Anthropos are fighting to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Greece. Both founded in the wake of previous crises, the organizations have redirected efforts to help with the COVID-19 crisis in Greece.
The ANKAA Project is a nonprofit organization that began in 2017 to address unemployment in Greece. The organization provides language lessons and vocational skills training to refugees, migrants and unemployed Greek citizens. By equipping people with the necessary skills for employment, the ANKAA Project addresses poverty in Greece. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization transformed its Athens facilities into mask-making workshops. Since the pandemic began, the organization has provided thousands of masks to hospitals and refugee camps in need.
O Allos Anthropos
O Allos Anthropos is “a community soup kitchen in the Kerameikos neighborhood of Athens, Greece.” The organization began in 2011 to help those suffering from homelessness and hunger after the 2010 Greek debt crisis. Before the pandemic hit, the government and local organizations assisted struggling households with meals and food packages.
In mid-March 2020, COVID-19 restrictions meant this assistance came to a halt. O Allos Anthropos was the only organization still providing food assistance. The organization had to rapidly expand its efforts, mobilizing to increase meals from 200 to 2,000 per day. Other humanitarian groups stepped in to assist so that thousands of food packages could be provided across Athens.
While Greece has faced several social and economic disasters over the past decade, the country’s crisis-prompted grassroots culture helps to relieve the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Greece today.
– Zoe Tzanis