PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE – Balkans Pensioners Beware!

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The amount of rot spoken in the UK, about pensions and pensioners is so diverse, that clearly few really understand the problems, which will now unquestionably occur to some expat’s, because of  the Brexit. Why? Because back home, they either don’t understand the implications, the questions, or they simply don’t care.

There are many older people living in different parts of the EU, away from their home countries, and many are now very concerned about their future, not only because their pensions have become less dependable, but because age very often means illness and disability, as the years pass by.

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In this article, I am only going to write about the British contingent, because, they are one of the most numerous groups living in the Balkans, most of whom are dreading the thought of having to return to the UK; distraught, unwanted, and practically penniless. Whilst some are consumed with worry about their future, foreign property prices are falling, and generally unsalable – due to prevailing market conditions – many people can see no way out.

British pensioners are a hardy lot, and wouldn’t have ventured from their home shores otherwise, but the majority are not rich. Of course, some are, spending their declining years in France, and particularly in the South of France, but these are not ordinary people, and rather like their counterparts back in Blighty, they probably couldn’t care two hoots about any doddering British expats  who might litter the landscape of the EU, the Balkans, and elsewhere.

Spain is, and always has been a place to retire to, for many elderly Brits, and for practical reasons – including regular and affordable flights to and from the UK – on which visitors can travel, and for retirees wishing to visit the UK.  But the primary reason, is the cost of property, and the ease – both legally and financially – by which one can move into a new retirement home abroad.

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Most of us came to live in the Balkans, because it was affordable and easy to live here. Not to mention the weather, because South Eastern Europe usually enjoys very hot summers and snowy winters. Greece, especially, has an all year round warmer climate – particularly on the islands  – than most of the other Balkan countries. This is why I live in Greece, and many more UK citizens, live in Bulgaria, Romania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,  in and around the Dalmatian Coast, and recently Albania.

But what is it that attracts ordinary working retirees to this part of the EU? Very simply, it is the price of property, and the choices on offer. The price of property in the UK is so inflated, that first time buyers can ill afford to buy, most UK starting prices being in the region of 200,000 GBP, and in the UK, property is selling fast. The Bank of Grandma and Grandpa is also a factor, and selling up and moving abroad, might release the deposit for a relatives first home.

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But what can you buy in this part of the world? A  modernized  three bedroom village house, in the Haskovo region of Bulgaria, will cost you about 40,000 Euro’s, all done up, well decorated, with two bathrooms, probably furnished, and with as much as four acres of land. You can buy directly from English people, who like to develop these old buildings, and sell them on, in order to then move on themselves. Or, you can buy a wreck for 5,000 GBP and spend your time modernizing it yourself. This  may be okay if you are fit, have a secure income, and time on your hands. But what if things start to fall apart? Well, that may have started already!

Firstly, pension payments from the UK are now 20% less than this time last year – due to the pound crashing in the currency markets – and banks, in time honoured fashion, make sure they pay you when the exchange rate is at its worse. That’s for starters. Secondly, the matter of the EU protocol concerning medical treatment for pensioners, has made an even bigger impact on us expat pensioners, due to the prevailing retail price of medicines, and the possibility that we might at some future date, pay the full price. Coming from the UK, presently, due to our EU membership, the majority of medical costs for British pensioners, are met by the UK government.

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I am lucky because I chose to retire in Greece, which, despite its problems, has always honoured its obligations towards foreign pensioners and their EU rights. For those of us living in Greece, where all pensioners have to pay about 10% of the high street cost of medicine, the British government pays the rest. The cost of your medicine is generally covered  – as it would be, were you resident in the UK – and doctors, who supply your monthly prescriptions, undertake your treatment free of charge. Each year they have to sign a declaration to the Greek medical authorities, and it all works quite smoothly as long as you register under the Greek health insurance scheme.

But what will happen after Brexit? Well, it all rather depends on how many medicines you take and also, for what ailment. Before I retired, I was living in Bulgaria, and as a diabetic, I was paying the counter price for all my medicines, which before retirement age, was costing me an arm and a leg; subject to availability. So, because my house was then under construction, I would buy my medicines locally in Greece. And now? If I had to do that today, I couldn’t afford to live where I am in Greece, and it is as simple as that!

Brexit was initially presented as a blue on blue referendum, but how critically was it all taken? And, how much thought actually went into people’s decision making. In ‘Midsommer Murder’ land, and the Home Counties? I can assure you that it was practically nil. The middle class stalwarts of Little England, treated it all like a big joke, as did their Tory representatives, who were equally contemptuous, and this was a major factor in Brexit.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

The number of straight cucumber and half bread offal tube stories, seemed to practically take over logical thought, in the debating chambers of ‘The Dog & Duck,’ or ‘The Checkers’ public houses, where most statements made were entirely rhetorical – “You would agree with me, of course you would, that we would be better off out than in!”

Usually the repetition of the oversimplified drivel, Boris nightly trotted out on the telly? Or was it about Nigel’s trip to Bulgaria? In fact, he was in a Gypsy bar in Sliven, Bulgaria, when he told TV viewers that they were all typical Bulgarians, which they should shortly expect to see standing on their doorstep in the UK. That or, a hoard of Turkish belligerents, one forgets how many lies he told!

I think that given a choice between voting leave and having another Gin & Tonic, it would have been a very close call. But these blue on blue noodles, were not the problem, because in the end – with a weak Labour party – the underpaid, ignored, destitute, and virtually forgotten voters of Middle England cast their votes, and said no.

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They were sick of the Tory’s, sick of coming last, sick of trying to live on peanuts, sick of seeing rich people getting even richer, and so they couldn’t care a “monkeys,” either way. If they did, it would surely have seemed inevitable, that someone having retired to a foreign country, was obviously very rich indeed.

Terry Thomas  the comic actor from the 50s and 60s, lived quite close to me in London, when I lived there, and quite forgotten and neglected, he died lonely and broke and ill, in a small council apartment on the outskirts of Barnes. I always think of him, because as the world turns, one day I may be the same.

But he had one great expression; which we could easily apply to the present British Government and the chaos which it represents. He would simply say – “You are an absolute shower,” which most of them seem to be. But then, they are probably not Brexit victims either, or are they?

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