I’m always in two minds as to whether to post on Moving to Portugal when I’m in a bad mood, but it’s good to drive home the point that life “in the sun” isn’t always perfect. So, here follows a cathartic, self-indulgent, and possibly slightly controversial rant.
First off, I’m going to talk a bit about austerity. The media has been very quiet about Portugal recently. The main reason for this is that the country has, so far, met all its agreed bail-out conditions and targets.
Portugal has done so by implementing some serious spending cuts and tax increases. Largely, the population has accepted this quietly and stoically, as is the Portuguese way.
How has the austerity affected us? Well, being told half way through the year that you are going to have to pay an extra 3.5% tax on nearly all of your income, while utility bills have in some cases nearly doubled, stings quite badly. After all, our tax liability was already significantly more than it was in the UK, as was our petrol bill.
We’ve accepted it quietly though, in the same way as every Portuguese employee has had to accept their Christmas pay packet being taxed at a rate of 50%.
With this in mind, I am finding it very hard to reconcile my status as both a British citizen and a Portuguese resident, when a media-driven trend seems to be leading some members of the UK population towards casual xenophobia and Europe-bashing.
Since when did it become acceptable for moderated forums to allow comments about “work-shy southern Europeans,” and “lazy salt cod munchers?”
How many people in Britain really have the first idea of what life in these countries is like for normal people? Not for the political elite, the business leaders, the civil servants with good salaries and retirement packages – the normal people. Perhaps, to coin a phrase, “the 99%” (or more realistically in some countries, the 90%!) The fact is, the knowledge people have of these places, in the main, comes from one place: the media. Is the media known to work with honesty, integrity and no political bias?
People whose entire opinion is formed by what they have read in one country’s media will be ill-informed at best. From my position here in Portugal, I can see plenty of non work-shy people grafting very hard for very little money, in a country with no way to print cash, devalue currency, and pull themselves out of trouble.
Let’s not forget that the ability to do this is the main reason that Britain isn’t on the same list as Portugal, Greece, Italy and Spain. In fact, if you look at the raw figures, Britain is actually a good deal more screwed than some of the aforementioned. Right now, the media and markets are concentrating on (and profiting from) Southern Europe—but no one should be naïve enough to think they won’t head north once they are done with their current feeding frenzy.
The popular arguments about why the “PIIGS” countries need bailing out only wash to a certain point. If it is due to a select few creaming off the bulk of the money for themselves, along with an over privileged public sector….well that’s the same in Britain too isn’t it? Ah, no, it’s because big swathes of people don’t pay the tax they should in these southern European countries. Ah, OK, just like big corporations shirk most of their tax in the UK.
The “Euro crisis” term has provided Britain with a wonderful scapegoat. Unfortunately the media perpetuation of this is leading the less intelligent to think that Britain is going through hard times and that it is entirely Europe’s fault. This then leads to the xenophobic and slightly tragic little-Englander mentality all over the forums. It is easy to throw stones around a glass house with a good minimum wage, generous tax allowances and a benefit system that will always keep the most work-shy of all in beer, fags and fried chicken.
As an example from today, the Daily Mail speaks of “Plans to funnel British taxpayers’ cash to Italy’s stricken economy.” This really refers to a global IMF fund to which Britain is only being asked to contribute 4.5% This is the same IMF that Britain itself was bailed out by in 1976, and may well need to borrow from again in the near future.
I’m no rabid Europhile, but, the way I see it, a broad sense of unity between countries is always better than the alternative. Stirring up hatred and discontentment sells newspapers, and too many people are being taken in by the UK media’s current brand of bullshit.
The simple fact is that all the countries have spent beyond their means for many years, and the bankers and politicians have watched it happen whilst building up a sizeable rainy-day fund for themselves. As a result, we are all screwed. It is surely more grown-up and sensible to accept this and pull together than to fall out amongst ourselves. Pride comes before a fall, and I fear it is only a matter of time before fate conspires to make this xenophobic breed of little-Englanders realise just how little they really are.