Greece disability list sparks welfare benefits row

Protest by Greek disabled in Athens, 13 Dec 11
Image caption A rally by disabled people in Athens drew attention to their plight last month

A Greek government plan to categorise paedophiles and pyromaniacs as "disabled" has alarmed disability groups, who fear it could undermine their state benefits.

The new code could be used "to cut the number of disabled people with a right to disability benefits", the groups' national leader, Yannis Vardakastanis, told BBC News.

Indebted Greece is slashing state aid.

Disabled Greeks rallied in December, demanding job and benefit protection.

Mr Vardakastanis, head of the National Confederation of Disabled People, said the new code would simplify the definition of disability, limiting it to medical conditions.

"Disability is if society doesn't give you what you need to be like others. We want the Greek government to really protect vulnerable groups from getting deeper into poverty, exclusion and discrimination."

The new government "disability" list also includes compulsive gamblers, fetishists, exhibitionists and sado-masochists, the Associated Press news agency reports.

The Greek Labour Ministry said a panel of medical experts had decided to include such behavioural disorders on the list, but the new categories did not signify benefit entitlement.

The new list was drawn up because of "the need to update the old regulation, which had been in place since 1993", the statement said on Tuesday.

"No insured citizen has received any benefit under the new rates," the statement explained.

Mr Vardakastanis, who is blind, said the confederation was in talks with Labour Minister Giorgos Koutroumanis to try to get the new code changed before it goes to the Greek parliament, where a vote would make it law.

There is a risk, he said, that the new disability scale would work cumulatively, "so a person gets 20 per cent for one thing, then more for something else - and when they reach 67%, they are entitled to benefits".

The system might be used "as a guillotine to cut the numbers [of claimants]", he said.

A blind and unemployed person in Greece is entitled to 700 euros (£580; $896) a month in disability benefit, and a blind person in a job gets 360 euros, according to Mr Vardakastanis, who is blind himself.

The Greek state is more than 350bn euros in debt and the government has been told by the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut spending drastically.

The release of a second urgently needed EU-IMF bailout, worth 130bn euros, is conditional on deep austerity cuts. That means more hardship for vulnerable sections of Greek society, such as those who rely on welfare benefits.

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