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Slovakia: World Bank Study refutes myth of Romani settlement dwellers getting material distress aid

Bratislava, 5.3.2012 20:45, (ROMEA)

The stereotype that Romani people in particular are drawing the kind of welfare benefit known as aid to those in material distress in Slovakia has now been refuted by a World Bank report commissioned by the Slovak Labor Ministry. Most of the Slovak state's money intended for the poorest members of society, those who are long-term unemployed or who may have never worked, is not being sent to residents in the Romani settlements. Instead, such funds are being sent to individuals who do not have large families on whom they can depend. For the most part, therefore, this particular kind of benefit is not making its way to Romani people, news server Sme.sk reports.

The World Bank analyzed the Slovak social welfare system at the request of the Slovak Labor Ministry and found that the demographic profile of those receiving material distress benefits does not correspond to the demographic profile of settlement residents. Bank experts claim that as many as 62 % of material distress benefit recipients are childless individuals. Only 3 % of those receiving such benefits come from families with more than four children.

In the run-up to the Slovak elections, some politicians have been discussing welfare abuse and indicating that such abuse is primarily committed by the residents of Romani settlements. However, material distress benefits are mostly being awarded to isolated poor people, most of whom do not live in settlements. Most of the approximately EUR 283 million disbursed in 2010 for this benefit, therefore, was not awarded to settlement residents.

Marek Hojsík, director of the Social Development Fund (Fond sociálního rozvoje), said the findings refute the prevailing notion that the residents of Romani communities receive a significant proportion of this welfare. "That is shown not to be true. Rather, that notion is part of a negative, racist stereotype that is widespread in Slovakia. Marginalized Romani communities are characterized by families with more children," Hojsik told news server Sme.sk.

Hojsík explained that Romani people were not drawing material distress benefits because most of them are probably not entitled to them. For example, when a family receives a parental welfare benefit, it becomes ineligible for material distress benefits. Sociologist Zuzana Kusá of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, however, said poor people are also ineligible for some benefits for other reasons, such as living in cabins for which building permissions were never issued. The housing benefit can only be drawn by persons whose dwellings are legally registered. "Also, all it takes is for one family member to move abroad and the entire household, by law, also loses their entitlement to welfare," she explained to news server Sme.sk.

The World Bank analysis shows that as many as two-thirds of those drawing the material distress benefit are childless and single. Young people aged 25 or 26 in particular are applying.

"The demographic composition of those residing in settlements and segregated Romani localities is that of large families with many children. An individual is entitled to that subsidy only after he or she turns 25. In the Romani settlements you will not find a Romani man or woman at that age who is still single. There might be a few individuals, but it's a negligible percentage," Igor Dužda, head of the Romani Asaben association and a former journalist, said in an interview for news server Sme.sk.

Dužda gave the example of Stará cihelna locality in Prešov, where Romani people live segregated away from non-Romani residents. "Out of 1 500 residents there, if you found 10 individuals drawing material distress benefit, it would be a really large proportion," Dužda said.

The current coalition government wanted to monitor welfare abuse through its EUR 5.5 million "epay" project, which would teach welfare recipients to manage their money and prevent loan-sharking. The pilot project was to have been launched in the Romani settlements.

The SaS party and Lucia Nicholsonová, state secretary at the Labor Ministry, were surprised by the report's findings. "I too tend to believe the vast majority of the 25 and 26 year old welfare recipients are not Romani people," she told news server Sme.sk. Her comments on the "epay" cards were expressed very cautiously. "I proposed 'epay' cards for welfare recipients irrespective of whether they live in settlements or not. Young people also may not know how to manage money, not just Romani families", she told news server Sme.sk.

News server Sme.sk reports that the World Bank is recommending Slovakia reform its entire social welfare system and take some subsidies away from wealthier individuals who are not dependent on them. One example of such a subsidy is the child supplement, which is paid to every parent irrespective of his or her actual income.

Gwendolyn Albert, Zdeněk Ryšavý, ryz, Sme.sk, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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