Cash-strapped Czech pensioners forced to stay at home

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It's holiday time, a fact you can't possibly ignore walking the streets of downtown Prague. The city's winding alleys are crowded with tourists, many of them old-age pensioners. But you don't have to listen to the language they're speaking to know that those rather elderly tourists are foreign tourists. As Olga Szantova reports, most Czech pensioners lack the financial means for expensive holidays.

MOST of them do, but there are, of course, exceptions. The idea of retirement being a time when one can really enjoy life and do the things one didn't have enough time to do before, is far from the vision of pensioners in this country. For the vast majority of employees retirement means a significant drop in one's income and that, together with the usual stress connected with retirement and the general change of lifestyle, is a very difficult combination.

People who have been or are reaching retirement age worked for the bulk of their lives under the old regime, where there was no chance of opening one's own pension policy--you took the pension the state gave you. And, by the way, that attitude that the state should look after people in their old age is still very much with us. If you ask young people, even middle-aged people, whether they are making any preparations for retirement, most of them will say, I probably should, but no, I don't, it's still far off.

The result: pensioners now, and obviously for some time to come will, live only on state pensions, and those aren't all that good anywhere in the world. The average retirement pension in the Czech Republic is just under 6,000 crowns a month, that's less than two thousand crowns above the poverty line. But more pensions are below that average than above it. So pensioners have to get used to getting by with much less than they were used to. And the higher their incomes were, the bigger the difference. A person with an average income will be getting a pension amounting to 55 percent of his salary. Somebody with a significantly higher income, amounting to 200,000 crowns, will only receive 10 percent.

The significantly lower incomes, combined with the general, communist-endorsed trend for a passive lifestyle result in much less initiative. There are various courses, clubs, and other forms of activity for pensioners, but only a fraction take part in such activities as compared to the West. Which is not all that surprising. What is surprising is the result of a recent poll showing that two thirds of all Czech pensioners provide financial support to their adult children.

Author: Olga Szantová
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