Czech analyst warns that if welfare restrictions are adopted, societal tension will increase
Is the Czech Republic on the brink of seeing its social welfare system destroyed? According to the director of the Institute for Social Inclusion, Martin Šimáček, it is.
The proposed changes submitted in the lower house by legislators from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) movement in their bill amending the law on aid to those in material distress could initiate this, if adopted, and Czech Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jana Maláčová (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSDD) is not taking a clear stand against them. What do the proposed transformations involve, how would they actually affect hundreds of thousands of people, and what would they mean for their lives?
Jarmila Balážová has spoken with Šimáček about these developments in an interview for ROMEA TV. "The system of aid to those in material distress is the most basic system of social protection in the Czech Republic," he explained.
"That means it should be fully functional exactly in the situations we are speaking of now. That's whether this has to do with long-term impoverishment, or long-term social exclusion, or the acute poverty that is frequently happening with COVID-19 now, during the time of this epidemic, when people are simply losing their employment or their incomes are reduced," he told ROMEA TV.
Adoption of the bill could affect hundreds of thousands of people who receive aid to those in material distress. "If the MPs approve the amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress today, during its second reading, they will simultaneously amend the laws on state social support and the allowance for housing," Šimáček said on 9 February.
"That allowance is drawn today by hundreds of thousands of households. Basically, they are most frequently people who simply work for incomes that are not enough for them to afford all the costs associated with housing themselves," he said.
"Often these are senior citizens, impoverished families with children, in some places they are single parents, male or female, people living with disabilities, commonly they are households that have long been low-income who need support to house themselves. This is the only pillar the Czech Republic has in its social policies to support housing systematically," he said.
According to Šimáček, the claims that the law on aid to those in material distress should be altered are coming from MPs with the ODS and SPD. "The system for aid to those in material distress has basically been falling apart for more than two years now, and it is primarily because of interventions by the lower house," he explained.
"Most frequently these are, again, from MPs for ODS, quite often Mr Bauer in particular, but also the SPD. This initiative of these populist right-wingers has been underway, I'd say, for more than 10 years now," Šimáček reminded ROMEA TV viewers.
"Take Madame Mayor Řápková in Chomutov, for example, who was striving to make the benefits of aid to those in material distress something that collections agents could seize. Ever since then, this populism on the right has been gaining strength," he said.
"Currently the system of aid to those in material distress is not being controlled primarily by the Labor Ministry, because the ministry is actually leaving the initiative on that front up to the MPs. Most of the adjustments to the system of aid to those in material distress have taken place during the last two or three years through that particular route," the analyst explained.
"The ministry has abandoned the management of these changes and now, when more destruction of the system is threatened by these amendments, i.e., through Chamber of Deputies bills 290 and 652, the ministry is joining and supporting that destruction," he said. However, these amendments to the law on aid to those in material distress are not being supported by several parties in the lower house, nor are they currently being supported by some individual lawmakers.
"MPs from the Pirate Party above all are actively speaking out against this adjustment and have introduced several partial amendments of their own that appear to improve the main proposed amendment. However, their proposals are just cosmetic improvements, I must emphatically recommend not adopting any of these adjustments as a whole, although I appreciate the initiative of the Pirates," Šimáček told Balážová in the interview.
"Several MPs from other opposition parties also don't want to support this transformation, whether they are from the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), or TOP 09, or the ČSSD," he informed ROMEA TV. The wording of bill 652 is available here (Czech only): https://www.psp.cz/sqw/text/tiskt.sqw?O=8&CT=652&CT1=0
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