On the Greek island of Zakynthos (population approximately 35,000), at least 600 people (including taxi drivers and recreational hunters) have falsely registered themselves as blind and are collecting disability payments (of at least 350 euros, about $462, per month) from Greece’s cash-strapped government. This would mean that 2 percent of the island’s population is blind, “nearly 10 times the average rate of blindness in the rest of Europe,” says the Christian Science Monitor.
Such abuses of Greece’s social welfare system cost the Greek government 111 million euros ($146 million) last year. Officials have stopped welfare or pension payments to about 200,000 people due to such fraudulent claims.
Corruption Deeply Embedded in Greece
The Christian Science Monitor describes farmers whose fraudulent subsidy claims garner billions of euros for them from the European Union, people claiming pensions for long-dead relatives, women accruing multiple maternity benefit payments despite their never having had a child.
Sadly, these sorts of improprieties are too often the norm in Greece. Tax fraud and corruption are commonplace. The Mediterranean country of 11 million ranked 80th out of 183 in Transparency International’s 2011 corruption perceptions index, following Cuba, Tunisia, China and Saudi Arabia. Fakelaki, “little envelopes” of cash, are routinely used to bribe medical practitioners and all manner of officials with a view to obtaining construction permits and more. This “system of favors” dates back to Greece’s years under Ottoman rule, says the Christian Science Monitor.
I find the false claims of disabilities especially abhorrent as the situation for individuals with disabilities in Greece is highly lacking. I know a few families with children with disabilities in Greece. There are special education services but these are not what they are in the U.S.; there is no Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) to require the Greek government to provide accommodations and appropriate services for children with disabilities. One friend and her husband pay quite a bit in tuition to a private school so their son (who has Angelman’s Syndrome, a genetic disorder) can attend.
Another friend’s autistic son is in his 30s. He attended school years ago. Now he goes out once in the morning with my friend and her husband and then spends the rest of the day in the apartment, a routine that has been his and theirs for years and years.
This video provides an idea of what it is like to live with an actual disability in Greece.
The video was made in 2004 before the economic crisis hit. 21 percent of Greeks are now unemployed and the country is in its fifth year of a recession. Reports about “blind” taxi drivers underscore why, prior to May 6th elections, Greeks have become deeply cynical not only about politicians but also about the country’s social system.
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