Business

The human cost of austerity

WHEN a retired chemist called Dimitris Christoulas walked into Syntagma Square in central Athens Wednesday morning with his hunting gun and looked over at his nation's parliament building, he is unlikely to have been aware that 1,900 miles to the north-east, the silence that had befallen a small Victorian terrace house in the town of Bedworth, Warwickshire was a symptom of the same malaise.

Mr Christoulas was typical of the newer, poorer subscribers to monetary union for whom the promise of guaranteed affluence and equality across ancient borders with old enemies such as Germany came as a blessing after a lifetime of toil. But the state that claimed his loyalty was no better, he decided, than the one hijacked by the colonels in their coup d'etat in 1967.

"The government has annihilated all traces for my survival," he wrote in a note found at the scene, "which was based on a dignified pension that I alone paid for 35 years, with no help from the state."

But what the state had not given, it was now taking away: he chose a dramatic end to "fishing about through rubbish dumps for things to eat".

Over in Bedworth, 19 miles from Birmingham, steel shutters over the windows and doors of the end-terrace where Mark and Helen Mullins ended their lives are the only remaining signs of their decision to choose a less painful way out last November. They were hammered into place once the couple's dead bodies had been removed.

Neighbours had seen no comings and goings from the house for some days when police broke in and found them dead, side by side. Their bitter end soon became a symbol of the harsh consequences of the Coalition's cuts.

Mr Mullins had worked as a PT instructor in the army but had left too soon to qualify for a pension. His new wife Helen, 59, suffered from learning difficulties and according to her husband could neither read nor write, which prevented her from finding work.

Her 12-year-old daughter had been taken into care when local social services judged her incapable of looking after her any more, and the couple were said to have lived in fear of them reaching the same conclusion about Helen, and having her sectioned. They spent a lot of time moving from place to place.

Neither had any work, and the only source of money was Mr Mullins's AUD$88.30 per week jobseeker's allowance. Once a week they walked 12 miles into Coventry for the free vegetable handouts from the Salvation Army, and Mark kept a broth going all week with the proceeds.

The suicide of Dmitiris Christoulas, which triggered a new bout of rioting in the Greek capital, threw a spotlight on the fact which European authorities have gone to considerable lengths to obscure as they struggle to come up with ways to get European economies back on an even keel.

As the British researcher David Stuckler has spelt out in a series of shocking reports in The Lancet, suicide rates have risen right across Europe since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, with strict correlation between the intensity of the crisis and the rise in the statistics.

In 2006 he predicted that the new economic crisis would result in "increased suicides among people younger than 66 years".

Two years on the prediction was vindicated: as job losses increased rapidly, to about 37 per cent above the 2007 level in both parts of Europe, "the steady downward turn in suicide rates... reversed at once."

"The 2008 increase was less than 1 per cent in the new member states, but in the old ones it increased by about 7 per cent. In both, suicides increased further in 2009," he reported.

The examples of debt-crisis suicides in Greece and Britain have been replicated across the European Union, with Italy, where the state has imposed effective tax rises after many years of empty threats from Silvio Berlusconi, especially badly hit. The suicide rate for economic reasons has increased by 24.6 per cent between 2008 and 2010, it is reported, while attempted suicides have gone up 20 per cent in the same period.

In recent cases, a 78-year-old pensioner threw herself from her third-floor balcony in Gela, in the south of Sicily, blaming a pension cut from AUD$800 to AUD$600, while last Thursday a young construction worker from Morocco set himself on fire outside Verona's town hall.

The international media's slowness to notice and draw attention to the suicide epidemic reflects state power to present the crisis and its cure in their preferred fashion, but it has long been obvious to many that you cannot simply downsize a state whose rampant growth has been the obsession of half a century of government policy without consequences.

Mr Stuckler finds that suicide and attempted suicide rise in close conformity with economic hardship, with Greece and Ireland suffering the worst increase over the past three years, and with the loss of dignity and the sense of being the prey of newly empowered state agencies exacerbating the pain in Europe's south.

The centre of Bedworth is dominated by the Nicholas Chamberlaine Almshouses, built in Tudor style in 1840 by legatees of Chamberlaine, the local rector and squire for more than 50 years who pacified the area after the English Civil War.

It is becoming clear that such places have not outlived their function.

Topics:  contagion greece ireland opinion sovereign debt crisis



Brisbane's arts and culture events centre stage

A CITY drenched in culture, Brisbane is again flaunting an arts and culture events calendar fit for a queen.

Homewares stores to fulfil your Instagram dreams

No Caption

You too can become an Insta-star with these fab stores.

Date nights under $50

Nothing is more romantic than a picnic with a cracking view.

NOT every date has to cost you a bomb.

Top 10 Brisbane experiences to cross off your bucket list

Do yourself a favour and get amongst the food truck scene. Eat Street is a great place to start.

A GOOD bucket list doesn’t have to span continents or cost millions.

Six mega sporting events you need to be at this year

Don't miss all the action trackside this season.

IF THERE is one thing Brisbane does damn well, it’s play host.

Six reasons to get to Brisbane this Autumn

The Brisbane Powerhouse has free comedy on Friday nights.

AUTUMN has to be up there with one of the best seasons of the year.

The best things to do in Brisbane are FREE. Yes, FREE

Mt Coot-tha is a seriously gorgeous way to start your day.

HEADING to the big smoke doesn’t have to come with a big price tag.

McCulkin murder trial: Jury urged to believe witnesses

Vicki Marie McCulkin, who, with her mother Barbara McCulkin and sister Barbara Leanne McCulkin, disappeared from their Highgate Hill home in January 1974.

Mr O'Dempsey is facing murder charges in relation to family's death.

WIRAC pool to shut in June

WIRAC Pool will shut for a week in June for maintenance.

Other parts of the centre will remain open during the period

Helicopters to inspect electricity network

Powerlink Queensland will patrol Central Queensland skies in September and October.Photo Contributed

Choppers flying high to check regional electricity network

Local Partners

Hervey Bays to star in international horror flick

A great white thriller that had scenes filmed on the Fraser Coast has been picked up by a major US movie studio.

Cher, 71, and Celine Dion wow world at Billboard Awards

“I’m 71 yesterday and I can do a five-minute plank, OK.”

Judah's return to The Voice stage is a knockout

Judah Kelly performs during his knockout round on The Voice.

QUEENSLAND singer nails Adele hit.

Wentworth star Daniielle Alexis: "I was born a boy"

Wentworth star Daniielle Alexis has revealed she was born a boy

Dwayne Johnson, Tom Hanks announce White House bid on SNL

Dwayne Johnson is “officially” running for president in 2020

What to expect at Birds of Tokyo's Ipswich gig

The band will perform at the Racehorse Hotel on Friday.

BAND member Glen Sarangapany talks music, pub grub and doing shoeys

The Voice: Kelly Rowland stunned by singing trio’s demands

We feel your pain, Kelly.

Trio refused to sing anything but Gospel songs

The face of the Sunshine Coast's overpriced rental crisis

Alyx Wilson had to rent a $385 unit in Currimundi because the market was too competitive for cheaper rental housing. She is now renting a room from friends who own a house in Currimundi, and says its much more affordable.

Young people feel the strain in competitive, expensive rental market

WATCH: Take a tour of a tradie's dream home

5a Bruce Hiskens Court, Norman Gardens, going for $720,000. INSET: Lea Taylor.

Huge block with potential for anything

Deputy Premier makes massive call on controversial sand mine

Aerial view of the proposed Forest Glen sand mine.

BREAKING: State Government makes huge call on Coast sand mine plans

Residents warned as scammers rip off $60k in super

Police are warning people to be aware of a sophisticated telephone scam.

Superannuation, cash targeted by sophisticated scammers

How your body corp could ban pets, turf you from your home

DOG'S LIFE: Lyn Henderson and Tawny love life in their highrise.

Laws to ban dogs/smokers and make it easy to bulldoze units

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!