Roma dependant on social benefits thrown into worse poverty

By • on March 15, 2011

Cards for Roma will not stop usury

Sulík’s SaS (Freedom and Solidarity party) intends to solve the issue of the misuse of social benefit with e-pay cards that the government will test this summer. Nothing has been prepared yet, though. The ministry of Labour has neither estimated the cost for terminals, software or the cards themselves, nor launched a tender for a system provider. The officials involved will discuss details during a conference this Thursday.

Activists point out that the system, even though not labeled as openly discriminative, will have an impact on Roma communities anyway. “If the system is not going to be perfectly secured and created in cooperation with Roma communities, it can turn out to be more harmful than helpful for the targeted group,” highlights Janka Debrecéniová, a lawyer from the Citizen and Democracy Civic Association. According to her, the cards will further the stigma against Roma. “It is like giving out stickers to label those who are not able to look after themselves so the state has to solve it authoritatively. This could be partly true, but the main problem is that the arrangement does not target the cause, but the consequences,” summed up the lawyer.

Furthermore, the holders of e-pay cards will be able to shop only in selected facilities, which will turn into monopolies as their owners will be unrestricted in the setting of prices for chosen commodities, and that will only worsen the situation for the Roma. It is important to mention that the cards can be exchanged for cash through usurers.

According to the Ministry of Labour, cards will function like this: employment offices will set up a special account for the each beneficiary receiving allowances. One third of the benefit minus utilities will be sent every day to that account. There is another question along with that of discrimination: how much money will be left for everyday living? The daily limit will presumably be € 3 but it is also necessary to state the benefit’s amount. If the sum is € 60 and the state wants a daily limit of € 3 euro then the benefits need to be raised to € 90.

Miroslav Pollák, the plenipotentiary of the Slovak Government for Roma Communities, announced that the pilot project will be launched in Čičava, Hlinné, Sveržov, Vrbov and Olejníkov, which are villages in east Slovakia. He added that the program does not target only Roma, but socially dependant people having difficulties managing their budget in general.Jozef Gruchalák, thehead of the Department of social affairs, health and culture from the Municipality of Dolný Kubín alerts that the system can be misused. “Social work needs to be done individually. We cannot put into the same category a citizen on a disability pension and somebody who just left prison, is not socially integrated yet and therefore could be aggressive. Each case is different,” he added.

Gruchalák supports the system for now and states that it already functions in Dolný Kubín. Obviously, the measure is not very clear to him either as he confuses it with the institute of the special recipient, which has been functioning for several years in Slovakia. “It means that the state operates with allowances. If the beneficiary’s allowance is not serving the purpose for which it is given, the state entrusts another person, and eventually the municipality to manage the cash for them,” he clarified.

Municipalities do not favour such a measure as they see it as very demanding from an administrative point of view. “Even though we have field social workers, in some cases we need to accompany beneficiaries during their shopping to ensure that the benefits are used for their intended purpose. And the more people it concerns, the more challenging it becomes,” stated Jozef Gruchalák.

My remark:

So, these are the measures which Slovakia prepares for those who need help the most. Once again, someone came up with another punishment for the Roma and along with it a possibility of nice income. The state is about to waste money which could be rather given to people dependant on allowances. The state already uses sweeping generalizations to label those unable to look after themselves and their family. But the fact that their poverty is due to the state’s inability to provide work opportunities is not being mentioned out loud.

Unemployment robbed us of our financial freedom. Many of those who are now outcasts – or beneficiaries- had work before and took out mortgages that need to be paid off; hardly with an e-pay card though. Congratulations to the mastermind behind this system, then. The people who defend are probably employed as well. But what if something happens one day and they become beneficiaries? Will they still favour it? All the Roma I talked to about this issue are devastated. When will the witch hunt finally be over? When will the state money be finally used for something useful while taking into consideration the lives of its people? I will not make it to that day, but maybe my children will.

Some may not agree with my opinion because they have never experienced what it is like to be extremely poor. But it may all change one day; if we stay quiet and watch what is happening around us, the result should not surprise us.

It is said that the only cash which beneficiaries may count on can be earned by taking part in community work. But there is a catch, as communities might not need so many workers and also as not everybody might fulfil the given conditions. As such, many will fall prey to usurers and overpriced facilities selected for e-pay cards.

Those who created the system did not think of the fact that some cash is necessary to buy pills, bus fare or just a bottle of water or a little snack for children. We will have to be thirsty until we find a facility where our e-pay card could buy us a small bottle of water.

Many will get rich on this project, which requires many steps in order to be implemented- from the design of terminals to printing commercial leaflets…well, that’s another chance to get rich from state money. But isn’t that absurd – the rich getting richer while the poor are getting poorer?