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SMK SAYS THE CURRENT LAWS TRAP PEOPLE IN POVERTY, SMER CALLS THEM UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Benefits debate reopens

THE HUNGARIAN Coalition Party (SMK) has proposed the amendment of several laws on social benefits. SMK MP and former Labour Ministry state secretary Edit Bauer has begun lobbying for several changes.
She proposed that social assistance, currently at Sk1500 (€34), should be given to every working citizen in social need, notwithstanding the salary they receive.
The law would be amended such that activation assistance would not constitute part of the income of a socially vulnerable family.


PUT people to work, don't push them away, supporters say.
photo: TASR

THE HUNGARIAN Coalition Party (SMK) has proposed the amendment of several laws on social benefits. SMK MP and former Labour Ministry state secretary Edit Bauer has begun lobbying for several changes.

She proposed that social assistance, currently at Sk1500 (€34), should be given to every working citizen in social need, notwithstanding the salary they receive.

The law would be amended such that activation assistance would not constitute part of the income of a socially vulnerable family.

Under current laws, families are only entitled to this kind of support if welfare payments constitute their only income. Citizens who are in social need and work 10 hours for a municipality or a non-profit organisation can receive activation assistance.

"We pull people into a trap without giving them a way out," Bauer stated.

Interviewed by The Slovak Spectator on April 1, Bauer gave the example of a family that lives on the threshold of poverty but is not entitled to receive the monthly Sk1,500.

"[Imagine a family] where the wife is on maternity leave and the husband is on welfare, receiving unemployment benefits. Due to their cumulated incomes, they may end up receiving no extra money from the state," she explained.

Fellow coalition party the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) supports SMK's initiative. They maintain that activation assistance should be given to every citizen whose salary fails to reach the subsistence level.

"If people in need do not get the whole sum, the activation assistance loses ground because it fails to motivate them to take up voluntary work," Mária Demeterová from the KDH told the daily Pravda.

Robert Madej, an MP for the opposition party Smer, which is the most vocal critic of the government's social restriction measures, sees another problem - a constitutional one.

He suggested that the Constitution guarantees support to every citizen unable to secure his or her own subsistence.

According to the law, the living wage is currently Sk4,210 (€105). However, Madej explained, the combined Sk1,450 in state support for those in financial need and the Sk1,500 activation assistance still fail to reach the above sum. He thinks that the state does not, in fact, guarantee the living wage.

"I welcome every effort that aims to help those in need, but the SMK's initiative will not solve this main constitutional problem," Madej told The Slovak Spectator.

Bauer also criticises the housing allowance system for those on the margin of society.

"Based on the law, this sum is so small that it is not enough to run a household and pay the bills," she said.

A person living alone can receive a maximum of Sk780 (€19) monthly, a family of two and more a total of Sk1,300 (€32) a month.

SMK's vice-chairwoman warned that those in financial need might lose their apartments. "This will lead to rapidly increasing homelessness," she told The Slovak Spectator.

On April 1, Bauer met with Labour Minister Ľudovít Kaník. They agreed that a solution should be found to these problems.

"We agreed to continue this discussion after the Easter holidays. I hope that we will be able to reach an agreement. However, if the labour minister [Kaník] fails to prepare an amendment prior to April 23, we [SMK deputies] will come up with our own," she added.

The ministry claims that the proposed changes would require several billion Slovak crowns.

State Secretary Miroslav Beblavý said that the coalition council dealt with the legislation on social benefits recently, and all the government members - including those of the SMK - had approved the system as it was.

"I do not think those people [in the government] feel the effects of the law," Bauer said.

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