2015 issues for Romea.cz: "Practical schools" and social housing
The new year in the Czech Republic has begun with the ongoing design of the social housing law and a controversial amendment to welfare policy that will have hard-to-predict consequences. The amendment is intended to restrict "trafficking in poverty" by residential hotels, but it is not clear whether thought has been given to where those now living in such facilities might eventually end up as a result of the changes.
Until now, the owners of residential hotels have been able to charge exorbitant rents because they have accommodated large numbers of people in small spaces and collected rents - or rather, welfare housing supplements - per person. Simply put, they can make more money renting out a single room with a shared toilet in the hallway this way than they can renting out a normal apartment.
Since yesterday, the terms for disbursing these housing supplements have been tightened by the state - this benefit will now be based on the amount of space being rented, not on the number of people living in it. In other words, for each apartment or unit a residential hotel owner will be paid a "normal" amount of rent corresponding to local market conditions.
Problematic "interim steps"
Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Michaela Marksová-Tominová told the Czech News Agency the following: "The bill is an interim step between the current state of affairs and such time as a law on social housing will enter into force. It makes it impossible for the owners of residential hotels to make such unconscionably large amounts of money out of poverty, and it makes it impossible for public money to be used to house people in undignified conditions."
That sounds good. However, there is one essential problem here: What if, after the amendment takes effect, the owners of residential hotels decide to go out of business?
What if they close down the residential hotels and give their tenants notice? At the end of last year the director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, Martin Šimáček, reminded the viewers of Czech Television of this risk.
"Those people will have nowhere to go," was his brief summary. It seems, unfortunately, to be a typical problem.
The Government is very absorbed in designing the law on social housing, convinced both that it is meaningful and that it is now taking more advantage of expertise than the previous administration did. Nevertheless, even under these new conditions, progress on the design of the law is dragging, and some participants in the discussion are saying the process is chaotic.
For the time being, therefore, a clear concept and vision are being replaced by "interim steps", the impact of which is unclear - and they are steps that could cause more harm than good. The design of the social housing law will be one of the main topics that news server Romea.cz will systematically cover this year, along with an amendment to the Schools Act and the ongoing discussion about the "practical schools".
Inclusion, or the same old thing?
An amendment to the Schools Act is also sparking a controversial reaction. The Education Ministry is espousing inclusive schools and experts say the amendment contains many positive proposals in that regard.
On the other hand, the amendment also includes an ambiguous paragraph which, under a particular interpretation, could undo all "inclusiveness" and retain the existing "practical schools" in full force. The basic question, therefore, still remains unanswered: Does the ministry really want to thoroughly come to terms with the thorny legacy of the "special" schools, for which we have been repeatedly criticized not just by activists and experts, but by the European Union?
Will the ministry really take steps aiming to establish equal access to education? Or will the ministry continue to succumb to local traditions and the lobbying of the "practical schools" and continue to assign an incomprehensibly large number of children away from the normal schools?
In January, MPs will return to negotiations about this amendment. News server Romea.cz will follow this discussion and contribute a systematic overview of the problem of inclusive education, the "practical schools", and the transformation of education and the school system in general.
News server Romea.cz
Within the framework of the "One Year Differently" project, I will be gradually taking on more of a role in the management of news server Romea.cz. The aims my colleagues and I have set for ourselves may seem utopian (or overblown, at the least), but we wouldn't be interested otherwise.
Moreover, we consider our aims realistic: We want to become the top media outlet in the Czech Republic for the kind of reporting that Romea.cz does. In addition to the topics of education and social housing, we will understandably also focus on what has traditionally been a strong topic for Romea.cz, the depcition of Romani people in the media and the culture of the Czech media in general.
We also plan to report on the topics of hatred, racism, and xenophobia. Altogether, we will basically be providing a perspective on the modern society in which we live, including the questions of how we are living in it, what we expect from it, and what we think about it.
We are not so unrealistic as to believe that we will produce an exhaustive depiction of our society here during the coming year. However, we definitely will produce a part of that picture.
In any event I am looking forward to this work and to meeting with you all. I wish you all a good 2015!
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