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Slovaks aware of poverty

PEOPLE in Slovakia realise how much money a family needs to live a decent life and know that there is a huge amount of people who do not have such an income, but also misperceive how much the state helps the poor, according to a survey published by the Milan Šimečka Foundation (NMŠ) on October 16.

PEOPLE in Slovakia realise how much money a family needs to live a decent life and know that there is a huge amount of people who do not have such an income, but also misperceive how much the state helps the poor, according to a survey published by the Milan Šimečka Foundation (NMŠ) on October 16.

“We are convinced that poverty is a neglected or almost unperceived [issue],” Laco Oravec of NMŠ told The Slovak Spectator. “The perception of poverty is often biased … and this survey should help us understand what people think about this issue and open up debate about it.”

The survey, which was conducted by the Focus agency in September, canvassed the views of 1,043 respondents. It was carried out within a project entitled “What to Do About Poverty”, which has been supported by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway via the Active Civil Engagement and Inclusion programme overseen by the Ekopolis Foundation in cooperation with Children’s Foundation Slovakia and SOCIA - Social Reform Foundation,according to press release.

According to its results, 34 percent of respondents said that a four-member family needs at least €900 per month in order to be able to live a modest but decent life. Another 34 percent said that it needs at least €1,200. Furthermore, 94 percent think that poverty is a problem or very serious problem and 59 percent of respondents said that they help the poor, either directly or via charities, some as volunteers.

Living a decent life

Beside the 68 percent who said that a household of four needs more than €900 per month to live a modest but decent life, 20 percent of those surveyed said that it needs from €601 to €900 per month, and 9 percent consider the sum lower than €600 enough.

According to Oravec the results show that people know how much money a family needs to live a decent life, and even though the threshold is low in comparison with western countries, many still fail to reach it.

“As a society we realise that many families rely on lesser amounts of money than is needed for a decent life,” Oravec said. “It creates a question of how much solidarity we show as a country and if it should not be our common goal to reach a state where every four-member family has an income of €900 per month.”

The high number of people realising that poverty is a problem in Slovakia probably mirrors the fact that people know at least one person threatened by poverty, he added.

Welfare system myths prevail

On the question, how much money of the state budget goes to the Benefit in Material Need (BMN) programme, a quarter of the respondents said that it is from 2.1 percent to 5 percent. Another 23 percent of surveyed people think it is from 5.1 percent to 10 percent and 21 percent do not know, according to NMŠ survey.

In truth, the state spent around €300 million on the BMN, while the total state expenses were €14.96 billion in 2013, which is around 2 percent, according to Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. Just 13 percent of surveyed people responded correctly, according to NMŠ.

“Slovakia spends really low amounts of money on material need contributions and the amount is probably lower than in many other countries,” Oravec said. “But the impression of people, which is affected by political rhetoric and media outlets, is that it [BNM] is a much heavier burden than it really is.”

There is a lack of information about real numbers and real expenses on state social system and it particularly affects Roma who are depicted as those who draw money from the state budget, according to Oravec.

Love thy neighbour

NMŠ was positively surprised that as many as 59 percent of the respondents stated that they help the poor. From those people 29 percent help them materially and 25 percent financially. On the other hand, more than 40 percent of people remain indifferent. However, Oravec admitted that the answers are subjective and people could depict themselves as better people than they really are.

“This result – 60 percent of people who help – may not be enough but certainly it is a good number and we should be happy that at least 60 percent of people have a basic tendency toward solidarity,” Oravec said. “Our ability to be sympathetic or helpful to others has not vanished.”

On the other hand, Zuzana Kusá, a sociologist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences pointed to Eurobarometer results showing that the number of people who do not help poor people has increased significantly since 2010. Four years ago, it was 19 percent of such people while in 2014 it is 41 percent.

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