Czech Govt Roma Council sharply criticizes Labor Minister's repressive proposals on housing benefits
At its meeting yesterday, the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs discussed, among other things, the proposal of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MPSV) to amend the Housing Benefits Act. According to volunteer civil society member Edita Stejskalová, a resolution was adopted in which the Council called on the MPSV to implement the National Roma Integration Strategy and the Social Inclusion Strategy, both of which, in the Council's opinion, the bill currently contravenes.
The Council also discussed the results of a working group meeting to review the Government's 15 anti-poverty measures; the issue of publicly-sponsored community jobs; the revision of the Framework Education Programs in both primary and secondary schools to include Roma history as part of the civics and history curricula; Roma children in foster family and institutional care; re-codification of children's rights protections; and the grant programs of the Education Ministry and the MPSV concerning free lunches in the schools. "On almost every key issue, a resolution was adopted to better promote changing the situation according to the interests of the Roma Council. That means with respect to the proposed housing benefits revision, the establishment of a children's ombudsman institution, better interdepartmental cooperation, education, and with raising awareness of Romani culture in the Czech Republic. Each specific resolution then obliges the individual ministries to take specific, controllable steps," said the Czech Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Helena Valkova, in an interview for ROMEA TV.
"If the Roma Council then follows up and finds some department has ignored a particular resolution or has not implemented it consistently, then I can open that issue with the Government and inform the Prime Minister. That will make the process a full circle, and today's meeting of the Roma Council has confirmed its importance, maybe it will work better than it has in the past," added Válková.
Czech Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Jana Maláčová, whose proposal to amend housing benefits legislation is being criticized by non-profit organizations, other ministries and other experts, also attended today's meeting. According to the Government Commissioner for Human Rights, the comments from the Czech Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs on her proposed revision of social benefits were also very critical.
"The comments were formulated from the point of view of respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms, in the sense that housing is one of the fundamental human rights, and given how those two amendments are currently conceived, that right could be in danger of being violated with respect to some groups who are in jeopardy here, and there is no doubt that the Romani minority living in socially excluded localities is one such group," said Government Commissioner for Human Rights Válková to ROMEA TV. Stejskalová said of the bill to ROMEA TV that "Today we told Minister Maláčová directly, face to face, that her bill is implementing and preserving antigypsyism in the system. We argued that it was antigypsyist, discriminatory, and that it was in violation of civil and human rights in the Czech Republic."
According to Stejskalová, the solution is to get Roma into the labor market. "We talked about the measure of publicly-sponsored community jobs as something that, from a systemic point of view, is not resulting in people being employed long-term on the labor market," she said.
"If individuals are to be independent, then we must get them into the labor market. The barriers to their entering the market are their ethnicity and their low qualifications or education. So in combination with that aim, we also proposed answers and those resolutions," added Stejskalová.
Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková, Chair of the Czech Government Human Rights Council's Children's Rights Committee, also opposes the repressive proposals of Minister Maláčová. "We, on behalf of the Children's Rights Committee, have explicitly warned the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry about the riskiness of this proposal, namely the specific part that would restrict family housing allowances if a child does not attend school properly," she told ROMEA TV, adding that: "We would like to point out that there is a need to think about supporting children and families who are in crisis situations rather than acting repressively toward them in such situations, where effective state policy should be coordinated and should address both how to prevent such crisis situations and how to help the children from families living in situations that are actually burdensome, and to do so in a way that is coordinated and effective."
Tomáš Ščuka, a volunteer civil society member of the Government Council on Roma Community Affairs, commented on Maláčová's bill by telling ROMEA TV that "As it was presented today, it's a problem, in my view." According to Ščuka, tying the disbursal of housing allowances to children's school attendance is absolutely nonsense.
The Government Council for Roma Minority Affairs is a permanent advisory and initiating body of the Government in the area of Roma integration. It was first established by Government Resolution No. 581 17 September 1997 as the Inter-ministerial Commission for Roma Community Affairs.
In 2001 the Commission was transformed into the Government Council for Roma Community Affairs. A fundamental change to its Statute was subsequently approved by Government Resolution No. 254 of 29 March 2010, which also changed the name of the advisory body to the Council of the Government of the Czech Republic for Roma Minority Affairs.
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