Social Insecurity/Insegurança Social, Monchique, October 2013

I was just wondering what to blog about this month when my phone rang. It was Mario again. He was gasping each word as if someone had stabbed him in the stomach.

‘Did you pay your segurança social?’ he said.

‘You know I did,’ I replied, confused. ‘Why?’

‘They’ve frozen my account,’ he hissed.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Your name is still on my account and they’ve frozen over 1000 euros.’

‘It’s not possible. I paid it. You know that.’

I had gone to the Segurança Social (Social Security) with Leo in the beginning of September as – hands up – I hadn’t paid my National Insurance contributions since November 2012 as 124 euros a month when earning approximately 6,000 euros a year (500 a month) is, quite simply, outrageous. But I believe in a welfare system and I do live here so I decided I would pay out of my savings (rather than declare bankruptcy like most people in Portugal). Leo was in a somber mood that day and looked at the woman attending us with his dark-eyed saudades look. She fell for it.

‘I would wait until November,’ the very kind woman advised me. ‘Bring in your tax returns. It may be that you won’t need to pay if you haven’t worked much since having the baby,’ she said.

‘But I won’t be fined for not paying?’ She looked again on the computer and shook her head.

I went back a couple of weeks later with my tax returns. She wasn’t there and Leo was being less dark-eyed and more wriggly and punchy. The man who attended us told me the tax returns wouldn’t make any difference. He advised me to pay. I did. 1295 euros. Ouch. But at least I didn’t feel guilty about the plants Leo had uprooted from during the hour we were there.

‘It’s possible,’ gasped Mario. ‘I can’t get the money out. Check your …’

At that moment I lost him. My phone’s not the same since Leo posted it into the water tank. But Mario has a tendency towards drama. How could they have frozen money in his account?

But they had. And in mine. Apparently my case had gone to court. Without my knowledge. Without a letter, a phone call, an email… This happened last Friday. I had no time to sort it out before the weekend. Fortunately, I had a little more than 1000 euros in my account so I was able to go shopping.

And it cost me 40 euros to unfreeze it. Pure theft. Outrageous.

I want to complain but I can’t see a way of making a complaint on the Segurança Social website – there is a phone line but that doesn’t help me with my phone – so I will write a letter to the president. It will go something like this:

Caro Primeiro Ministro Coelho,

Sou residente de Monchique e tenho um filho com 15 meses. Vivo numa aldeia antiga que era um aldeia viva mas quase todos foram para outros paises ou sitios para ganhar uma vida. Nos ultimos anos vieram mais pessoas que querem fazer agricultura e viver uma vida mais simples conjuncto com a natureza – então não estamos completamente sozinhos. Mesmo assim a nossa aldeia ainda nao tem agua de rede – só o penico de deus, como dizem. Eu ensino cursos online para universidades na Inglaterra part-time e faço workshops e vendo alguns livros – mas não muitos porque nos ultimos anos todas as livrarias pequenas cairam a falencia e os grandes não nos deixam entrar.

Mas nao é isso que quero dizer. Eu quero dizer que não está certo que o custo de Segurança Social é tão alto – quatro vezes mais do que na Inglaterra por exemplo. Parece que voçe não compreende que as pessoas não podem trabalhar quando eles ganham 500-600 euros por mês e pagam 124 euros por mês. Não pensou que está a causar as pessoas ou trabalhar ilegalmente ou simplesmente não trabalhar?

Quanto a levar os cidadões para o tribunal sem informa-los (e quando eles já tinham pago tudo) acho, para dizer a verdade, uma vergonha. E o facto que voçes tem o poder congelar o dinheiro nas contas das pessoas sem avisa-las, acho, francamente, criminal. E que eles tem de pagar para descongelar o dinheiro é escandaloso.

Gosto muito de viver em Portugal, Senhor Primeiro Ministro, mas isso faz me zangada. Com troika ou sem troika isso não é uma maneira para tratar dos cidadões – senão quer que eles vão a procura outros paises onde eles podem trabalhar. E isso seria uma pena – quando, finalmente, temos alguns vizinhos.

Melhores cumprimentos,

Lisa Selvidge

Which very roughly translates as:

Dear Prime Minister Rabbit,

I am a resident of Monchique and I have a 15 month-old son. We live in what used to be a thriving mountain village before it was abandoned by people who scurried off to other lands to seek their fortunes. Recently, more people have settled here –in search of a more simple life – so we’re not completely alone. But our village has no mains water – just God’s gussunder, as the locals say. I teach online courses for universities in the UK and run occasional workshops and sell a few books but not many as most of the book shops have closed down in recent years and the big ones aren’t interested in selling from independent writers.

But that’s not what I want to tell you. I want to tell you that it is wrong that the cost of Social Security is so high – at least four times more than in the UK. Do you not realise that it is putting off so many people from working (at least legally)? How realistic is it to ask people who earn 500-600 euros a month to pay 124 euros in Social Security? Have you not thought that perhaps people might sign off and work illegally when they can, and not work at all when they can’t?

As for taking people to court without their knowledge (and when they have already paid their dues) and freezing sums of money in their accounts is, to be perfectly honest, criminal. And then to make them pay to unfreeze their accounts which have been frozen for no fault of their own is downright theft.

I don’t get angry very often, Mr Prime Minister, and I love Portugal but this makes me angry. Troika or no troika, this is no way to treat your citizens – unless you want them to seek their fortunes elsewhere. And that would be a shame – just when I’ve got some neighbours.

Best wishes,

Lisa Selvidge

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