Reducing long-term dependence on benefit
Benefit reform is to be introduced in Slovakia to solve the problem of significant numbers of people living long-term on benefits intended for those ‘in material need’. The government has drawn up new legislation proposing stricter qualifying conditions and requiring any employable beneficiary to take part in minor, mainly community, works for at least 32 hours a month. If they fail to do so, their benefit will be significantly reduced. It comes into effect on 1 January 2014.
In Slovakia, benefits for those ‘in material need’ are provided to citizens who do not have enough income. This benefit is secured by the Constitution and several hundred thousand people, including children, are long-term recipients of this benefit. In 2012, 6.6% of the population were living on this benefit. However, in southern and eastern regions, where approximately 40% of the country’s most economically-deprived people are living, the proportion of recipients was 11%. The benefit is not very generous and figures from the Mutual Information System on Social Protection (MISSOC) show that in 2013 it was a maximum €398.14 for a household of two adults with no other income, living with two children (aged 5 and 10 years) in a three-bedroom apartment.
Importance of the benefit for unemployed people
The benefit is particularly targeted at unemployed people. In 2012, unemployed people represented 71% of all recipients, according to the Report on the Social Situation of the Population of the Slovak Republic in 2012 (in Slovak, 4.7 MB PDF). It is particularly important for poor Roma families living in segregated societies with no real chance of getting a job. In such cases, their only income is from social benefits, including those for the education of children and for ‘material needs’.
Motivation for unemployed people to look for work has not, until now, formed part of the qualifying conditions for receiving benefits. The unemployment rate is at an all-time high and inhabitants with a low level of education have little chance of finding a job. Current legislation for receiving the benefit emphasises the participation of the job-seeker in education, retraining or performing other minor jobs for the municipality to maintain their working habits.
Emphasis on merits
The effects of the economic crisis and the political situation has led to revision of the conditions for granting benefits financed from the state budget. The government drew up a draft Act on Material Need in the 2013, increasing emphasis on the use of benefits to reinforce working habits and integrate poor people into society.
According to the Government Plenipotentiary for Roma Community Affairs, Peter Pollák, the Act, passed by parliament in November 2013, includes three basic pillars of Roma reform (from The 10 pillars of the reform of the Roma (in Slovak) recently adopted by the Slovak state). He supports the proposed bill because, for instance, he believes state benefits cannot be given to people who do not send their children to school.
‘Social assistance is not given for free, the people have to deserve it,’ he said.
The new bill makes payment of the basic benefit conditional upon participation of the applicant in minor, mainly community, works for at least 32 hours per month. Otherwise, the benefit will be cut to well below the official subsistence minimum in Slovakia.
While unions are against reducing benefits and propose increasing it for those who are, for objective reasons, in material need, employers support it.
Although parliament approved the new act, the President of the Slovak Republic, Ivan Gašparovič, sent it back with comments for renegotiation. He pointed out that the Constitution of the Slovak Republic secures for all citizens the right to the assistance necessary to ensure basic living conditions and the proposed reductions in benefit will not do this.
However, on 26 November 2013 parliament again approved the act in its original wording and rejected the objections of the President. The Act on Material Need will come into effect on 1 January 2014.
Rastislav Bednárik, Institute for Labour and Family Research