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Czech Republic: Facts and myths about Romani people and welfare

Prague, 9.12.2011 16:10, (ROMEA)

Various rumors are spreading in Czech society - online and through other venues - that Romani people are abusing the welfare system and profiting from it at the expense of those who need it. Last year business news server Podnikatel.cz ("Entrepreneur.cz") decided to focus on the facts and myths surrounding Romani people and welfare with an article that is still drawing plenty of comment online.

Once again, a hoax is circulating online that claims to prove Romani people don't have to pay for medicines. More than a year and a half ago, a similar false report claimed Romani people's retirement pensions were being calculated based on the average wage even if they had never worked. Many people are also willing to believe that even if Romani people don't get big old-age pensions, they receive generous disability pensions. What, then are the facts about social security and Romani people in the Czech Republic?

The latest chain e-mail to surface falsely claims that the socially deprived (the subtext of the message implies that this means Romani people) don't have to pay for medicines. This particular hoax has been one of the top 10 most-widespread hoaxes for two months now, according to the list compiled and regularly published by the internet server hoax.cz.

The “shocking, true information" contained in the e-mail has naturally been refuted by the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, which has done its best to correct this composite of fact and fiction. As the ministry pointed out in a press release, the law on public health insurance decrees that people who qualify for aid in material distress do not have to pay the regulatory fees associated with health care. However, this does not apply to medicines, which everyone must pay for, whether they are over-the-counter medicines or prescriptions requiring co-payment. The law does not make any distinction between "non-Romani" patients and Romani ones.

A similar type of hoax aimed against Romani people was spread online a year ago. That rumor claimed unemployed Romani people who had never contributed to the welfare system in their lives were receiving old-age pensions based on the average wage. This hoax quickly made it into the list of the top 10 most-forwarded e-mails and remained there for several months.

Once again, the ministry quickly responded to that rumor, disclaiming it as simply untrue. In order to be entitled to an old-age pension, people must meet two conditions: They must have been contributing into the retirement insurance system for the required amount of time, and they must have reached retirement age. The law prescribes that the relevant length of contributions to the insurance system is achieved only through employment or self-employment. The actual amount of a retirement pension is calculated based on a person's income and how long he or she has contributed to the system.

"If the criterion of having contributed to the retirement system for the necessary amount of time, which is one of the two basic conditions for the awarding of an old-age pension, has not been met, then a person cannot receive an old-age pension. Romani fellow-citizens are neither advantaged or disadvantaged when old-age pensions are calculated. The same rules apply to them as apply to all clients of the Czech retirement system," Štěpánka Filipová, who was the ministry spokesperson at the time, said of the deceptive reports.

Last year, business news server Podnikatel.cz reported on the issue of disability pensions and Romani people in an article still available at http://www.podnikatel.cz/clanky/romum-se-pocita-duchod-jako-vsem-ostatnim/ (in Czech only). Several readers' commentaries have been posted to the discussion responding to that article, the most recent of them from just a few days ago, claiming that even if Romani people do not receive old-age pensions, they universally draw disability pensions that are based on the average wage. "...what a Gypsy gets is DISABILITY pension from the time he is 18 until the end of his life and this disability pension is calculated based on the average wage," a user calling him or herself "Milly" posted in that discussion recently.

Reality, however, differs significantly from this claim. If a person has never worked and therefore never contributed into social security, he or she will never be entitled to a disability pension for third-degree disability (the most serious degree of disability). "Even if the person's disability has been recognized as belonging to the category of third-degree disability, he or she will not be awarded the pension, because he or she will have only met that one condition and will have failed to meet the second condition of having contributed to social security for the required amount of time," Jana Buráňová of the Czech Social Security Administration (Česká správa sociálního zabezpečení - ČSSZ) told business news serveru Podnikatel.cz.

In the area of disability pensions, however, there does exist an exception which partially confirms those voices charging that disability pensions are calculated based on the average wage. That exception is the "disability pension for childhood disability". This is awarded in situations where a person is recognized as having suffered from a third-degree disability since before the age of 18. The base rate for a "disability pension for childhood disability" was CZK 2 230 per month for the period up to 31 December 2011 and will be CZK 2 270 per month as of 1 January 2012. The rest of the pension is calculated as a percentage of the average wage.

This year the average monthly wage was CZK 24 740, and next year it will be CZK 25 137. That means that if someone were to be awarded a "disability pension for childhood disability" today, the total amount drawn per month would be CZK 8 937. However, those who were awarded this type of pension previously receive their pensions as calculated on the basis of the average wage at the time of the award, which in previous years was lower than it is today.

The total number of persons drawing such a pension is also interesting. Statistics show that the number of such awards has held constant for the past two years, at roughly 30 000 people (as of December 2010, a total of 29 531 persons were drawing such a pension). According to the professional estimates listed in the government's report on the state of the Romani minority in the Czech Republic for the year 2010, there are between 150 000 and 200 000 Romani people living in the country. The thesis that every Romani person in the country has been drawing a "disability pension for childhood disability", therefore, is incorrect.

Neither the ČSSZ nor the ministry keep records on the ethnicity of persons drawing this pension - both agencies claim they are legally barred from doing so - so statistics on this question do not exist. Even though experts admit many people at risk of social exclusion have been awarded disability pension status, they also say the vast majority of such cases are those of "classic" disabled pensioners. Persons who have not worked the necessary number of years cannot draw disability pensions.

Experts also say that only a minimum of persons drawing "disability pension for childhood disability" are members of the Romani minority. "I manage teams of employment and financial advisers and I can tell you with the utmost sincerity that I have not yet encountered anything like that in practice, and we have a very detailed overview of the financial conditions of specific families," Daniel Hůle, an expert on the Romani community in the Czech Republic who manages several social integration programs, told business news server Podnikatel.cz.

František Kostlán, Gwendolyn Albert, Podnikatel.cz, fk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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