Access to social benefit extended for unemployed people

In May 2009, the Council of Ministers approved a decree to extend access to social benefit for unemployed people, in order to cope with the sharp rise in unemployment as a result of the current economic crisis. The social benefit for unemployed people was established to provide them with a level of income that would enable them to survive. With the new rules in place, about 15,000 additional unemployed persons will be eligible to receive social benefit.

Rising unemployment

According to Eurostat harmonised data, Portugal ranks eighth out of the 27 European Member States (EU27) in terms of unemployment. While the average unemployment rate for the EU27 stood at 8.9% in May 2009, it amounted to 9.3% in Portugal. Unemployment has risen significantly since 2005, when Portugal ranked 14th out of the 25 EU Member States (EU25). At the time, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 7.5%, which was below the EU25 average unemployment rate of 9%.

Social benefit for unemployed persons

The social benefit scheme in the case of unemployment (subsidio social de desemprego) was established to provide unemployed people with a level of income that would enable them to survive. The persons eligible to receive the ‘unemployment social benefit’ are those not entitled to unemployment benefit, which depends on a worker’s social security contributions, and long-term unemployed people, when their access to unemployment benefits has expired. The social benefit scheme for unemployed people is dependent on the income level of all family members. Up until now, only unemployed persons whose family income was below €365 a month were entitled to participate in this social benefit scheme. The amount of the social benefit for unemployed persons varied between 80% and 100% of the monthly statutory minimum wage (Salário mínimo nacional, SMN), which currently amounts to €450 (PT0811039I).

In March 2009, new rules came into force, with Decree 68/2009 extending temporarily, by six months, the period during which persons are entitled to receive the unemployment social benefit. As a result, unemployed people may receive the social benefit up to a maximum of 18 months. However, this measure was followed by a reduction in the benefit amount to 60% of the social support index (Indexante de Apoios Sociais), allowing for a bonus of €41.90 for each child in the household. In 2009, the social support index corresponds to €419.22, which is €30.78 less than the SMN.Therefore, unemployed persons without children were eligible to a social benefit payment of €251.40 a month.

Extension of scheme

On 7 May 2009, the Council of Ministers approved a decree law extending the access conditions of the social benefit scheme for unemployed people. The government took this measure to address the present economic crisis and the rise in unemployment.

The extended social benefit scheme will apply for a period of 12 months. All unemployed persons meeting the requirements with a family income below €461 a month (before the limit was €365 a month) will be eligible to take part in the scheme. The government estimates that the state expenses relating to the extended scheme will amount to about €20 million, on the basis that 15,000 additional persons will be entitled to receive this benefit, leading to 80,000 beneficiaries in total.

Trade union views

The General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP) and the General Workers’ Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT) welcomed the government measure, insofar as it is in line with their goal to ease access to social security provisions in the case of unemployment. Nevertheless, the trade union confederations highlighted that this measure is not sufficient and that more ambitious measures have to be taken to fight the ongoing social and economic crisis.

Maria da Paz Campos Lima, Dinâmia

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