Battling poverty, loneliness with coffee and cake
By Marina Sera
Vienna, Jul 2 (EFE).- The tunes of an old record player and the smell of fresh pastries waft through the air as a team of pensioners serve clients at Vollpension, a Vienna cafe that is tackling poverty and loneliness among the older generation.
“It’s hard to believe, but old-age poverty is a major problem in our wonderful country, where we have a high standard of living on many other levels, and where we are well off especially in comparison to other countries,” the company, which took root in 2015 and now has three establishments, says on its website.
Almost half of Austrians over 60 live alone, as do a third of over 65s, according to official statistics.
“Everybody who works here gets money and they can kind of earn a little bonus to their pension, which is often very low,” says David Haller, one of the founders of Vollpension.
The original idea behind the cafe was to create a meeting space between young and older people, but it has since taken on new dimensions as a veritable social project, where roughly half of the 80 employees are pensioners.
Non-profit Volkshife estimated that the over 65s represent 15% of all Austrian citizens at risk of exclusion or poverty.
The situation is worse for women, whose average pension of just over 1,000 euros is 600 euros less than their male counterparts, and far below the risk-of-poverty threshold for retirees living alone.
The vast majority of pensioners working at Vollpension are women.
One of those people is Marianne Hofmann, 77, who decided to take on work at the cafeteria to top up her pension and keep up with Vienna’s high cost of living.
“I need money, I live alone and life is very, very expensive,” she tells Efe. “Here is the best place for me.”
Alongside the cafe’s young barista, Marianne serves traditional pastries including apple pie, chocolate cookies and banana bread, as well as conversation with the customers.
As well as offering part-time employment to local pensioners, Vollpension has taken on five Ukrainian refugees fleeing the invasion of Russia.
They are not allowed to earn more than 110 euros a month without losing their 250 euros of state benefits, but the wages can be topped up with tips. EFE