4 December 2012

Taxing Charity: Greece’s Economic Crisis Affects the Vulnerable

SOS Children's Villages Benin
A boy from SOS Children's Villages Plagiari at his home. Photo courtesy of Ms. Katerina Ilievska.
12/4/2012: “I cannot afford to look after her,” read a note left with a four-year-old girl, abandoned at an SOS Kindergarten in Athens in March 2011. The girl is now thriving in the care of SOS Children’s Villages Greece. However, life has not been kind to her mother. For various reasons contact between them has practically ceased. Far from supporting the girl, Greek authorities today levy taxes on every aspect of her support.

It is universally recognized that harsh economic circumstances alone do not justify placing children in long-term care. Fortunately, child abandonment has not become the issue that the Greek government and SOS Children’s Villages feared it would be.

This can be attributed in part to the recent expansion of SOS Family Strengthening Programs across Greece. Today, approximately 650 families receive food, clothing, psychological, and financial support. These measures are in place to help families remain intact so that they can provide and care for the children they love.

The authorities in Greece do not fund such services that are unquestionably for the public good. On the contrary, because of its 2010 tax reform, donations that help prevent the abandonment of children on the streets of Greece are now taxed, at the same rate as luxury goods.

Orphaned and abandoned children – consumed by taxes 

Citing lack of transparency as a reason for not supporting the work of any non-governmental organization in Greece, the authorities refuse to contribute anything to the on-going bi-weekly psychotherapy or related care received by so many SOS beneficiaries. The Greek government even taxes the money that children inherit from their biological families.

“How can it be that even legacies to a charitable cause now incur tax?” asks George Protopapas, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Greece. “In three years…the [SOS] facilities’ source of income has fallen drastically. Cash strapped Greeks have remained loyal, but the economic circumstances have resulted in individuals reducing their monthly donation from fifty dollars to twenty. Thankfully, our supporters abroad and the few Greek multinational companies that remain active in the country have not been deterred by the fact that we are penalized for protecting children who have been let down by the state,” said Protopapas.

Taxes creating tough times for SOS children at the holidays 

This Christmas and New Year, the maximum daytime temperature on the streets of Athens is unlikely to rise much above fifty degrees. Heating oil is therefore a necessity in the SOS Babies and Infants Space, SOS Children’s Villages, and SOS Social Centers across the country. The government’s Consumption Tax introduced last October increased the cost of heating oil by 40 per cent. This increase alone has left a huge deficit in the SOS Children’s Villages Greece’s budget. Those who will pay for this, the income tax on donations and the property tax on the infant hostel, are children of parents who cannot cope.

SOS Children's Villages Benin
An SOS child from Greece.

When last seen, the woman who in desperation left her child at a kindergarten last year was unemployed, distraught, and unfit to care for her little girl. Many like her have resorted to life on the streets where prostitution, drugs, and violence is often the only option.

The eternal optimist, SOS Director George Protopapas believes in people. He believes that even in difficult times together with likeminded individuals and the corporate community, opportunities can be found. He says, “solidarity still exists, in spite of the fact that Greek orphans are the only ones in the world who must pay taxes to be protected.”

The children of Greece desperately need the support of SOS supporters and friends, especially with an increase in taxes. Donate today or sponsor a Village in Greece to help support the people of Greece through these tough economic times.