Work for Adults, Education for Children

picture: Zingaro

A position paper on solving the Roma question compiled by the Slovak liberal party Sloboda a Solidarita (SaS), represented by Lucia Nicholson, MP

SaS (Freedom and Solidarity) introduced a group of measures to solve the Roma question. „No government so far has been able to enforce real solutions. Political correctness was more important. If the state does not offer
any solutions, it creates space for extremists,” alleged R. Sulík.

System measures for workers

1.      Programme “Work instead of benefits”

Lucia Nicholson

For adults we suggest the programme “Work instead of benefits”, a solution which was already part of the SaS election programme, only it went unnoticed. It would be implemented approximately in the following way: the government creates a State Employment Agency, which would offer work for minimum wage to anyone who would be interested. Those objecting that this is socialism should realize that giving money to someone without them working, as we do it today, is communism.

This State Agency will employ several thousands of people, which will organize work for those who signed up. The person who comes to work in the morning and is sober can start immediately and for every hour they properly worked, they will receive minimum hourly wage the very same day, which will be at their disposal via the E-pay card. Who does not come or will not be able to work, will not receive anything. However, he or she can come the next day. This offer will of course be valid for all Slovakian citizens over 16 years of age.

The State Employment Agency will have its conditions clearly set and must work with a high level of discipline. This will be a real challenge for the state, yet it is doable. The government will only need to give it a high priority and hire the best managers. It will surely do so when it realizes that we are sitting on a powder keg.

There is more than enough to do: cleaning of water flows, ditches and woods (followed by woodchip production), snow removal, working in community centres, maintenance and improving of state property. There are many jobs which require none or very basic skills and whose organization is not very demanding. Those who will work well and reliably will be able to be promoted and for example lead the work team.

The one who refuses a job offered by the State Agency, will receive only one hot meal a day, his or her children will be entitled to food at the community centre or a different assigned place (school canteen, cooking facility etc.). The one who will not be able to work for objective reasons, meaning he will be retired out of age or disability reasons, will receive at least the minimum disability or age pension (we will propose a minimal disability or age pension law).

2.      Material need benefits according to merit until the project “Work instead of benefits” is introduced

The existing system does not motivate people in material need to activity. We propose a change of the help in material need law,

Richard Sulik

so that the state guarantees just the absolute minimum – one hot meal per day – and the whole rest of financial aid from the state is conditioned by the activity of the person, which will create values for the state. It will be either studying, doing manually active work or any activity which the community could benefit from (working at the community centre, organizing free time activities for children and young people etc.) The child him- or herself will be a part of the motivational contribution as well, if he or she attends pre-school facilities and also if mother and father bring him or her to school regularly (this will be valid until the enforcement of the obligatory pre-school education for children from socially excluded communities).

3.      E-pay cards

The main objective of the e-pay card project is to prevent monthly social benefits from being spent during the first days or outside their purpose and also lower the level of usury in Roma settlements. E-pay cards will replace cash payments of social benefits with a non-cash form, which will save public finance. With the introduction of e-pay cards, the state will gain an effective control mechanism over how the recipient manages the benefits and if he or she uses them in accordance with the statutory purpose. Wages from the State Employment Agency will be paid out through the e-pay card as well. 

4.      Cancellation of child benefits and a proportionate increase of the child tax bonus (TB)

In case of the introduction of “Work instead of benefits” we suggest to cancel child benefits completely and to redirect the means to the child tax bonus. After implementing the “Work instead of benefits” programme, every parent will be able to employ him- or herself and thus receive the child tax bonus.

5.      Privatization of the service in employment sector

We want long-term unemployed and disadvantaged jobseekers in the labour market to be effectively prepared for employment. This is not happening today because official employment offices fail not only to prepare the unemployed for employment (such as retraining etc.), but also to find employment mostly for the long-term unemployed. This is why we suggest turning services in employment into a private sector with Australia, Great Britain and other countries serving as an example. Employment offices will register only recipients of unemployment benefits (those who are unemployed for less than 6 months). Next, these people will pass under the guardianship of the non-state employment services agencies. The government will not intervene in the preparation of the unemployed for employment or the choice of the employer, but it will only pay the first part of the agreed sum to the agency after it had placed the employee on an open market. The next part of the agreed sum will be paid later, if the agency manages to keep him or her employed for a year, which will require the agency to actively cooperate with the employee as well as with the employer. This measure will still be valid even after having introduced the project “Work instead of benefits”, since the agencies will prepare the people to work for the State Agency.

System measures for family and children

6.      Socially excluded communities law – SEC

It is crucial that the approach to solving the Roma question in Slovakia is purposeful and that various departments are involved. Similarly it is important that socially excluded communities are named and defined on a different than ethnical basis – mostly on a social-economic one – and that priorities are clearly set where state policies related to SEC are needed to be created and where finances from the state budget and EU resources need to be redirected inevitably (education, employment, health, social housing, the duty of municipalities with SEC to build community centres from the money from EU funds.) Therefore, we suggest passing a law which will include not only the definition of SEC, but also solutions, rules, obligations and rights or special requirements of the SEC members.

7.      Obligatory pre-school education for children from SEC of 3-6 years of age

picture: Zingaro

Even children from SEC, or from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, should come to school ready to handle primary schoolwork without any language, social or other barriers. Compulsory pre-school education for children from SEC must be preceded by the passing of the SEC law, which will define groups that belong under SEC. Until the law is passed, we suggest enforcing compulsory pre-school education for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, which is already defined in the Education Act. Compulsory pre-school education will be ensured particularly in community centres financed by the European Social Fund.

8.      Sexual education as a compulsory subject in primary schools

Children must not give birth to children! The number of adolescent (14-18 years) and even pubescent (10-14 years) mothers rises particularly in SEC. Therefore, we suggest an immediate introduction of a compulsory school subject “Education for parenthood”, which would include education on sexual and reproductive health in primary schools. The compulsory subject “Education for parenthood” would be useful even in (state) primary schools without children from SEC, since various surveys show that younger and younger children at school are experimenting with sexual intercourse without being aware of the consequences.

9.      Support of teachers´ assistants in schools

One good measure is the establishment of the institute “assistants in schools“ for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, mainly from Roma settlements. However, funding is not resolved. Therefore, we propose using the money saved from the cancelled school attendance bonus within benefits in material need to support teaching assistants in schools in areas with children from socially excluded communities.

10.   Cancellation of child benefits for parents of an underage mother

We want to financially affect legal guardians (parents) of underage mothers, who have not reached 15 years of age at the time of conception of the baby, and thus indirectly increase enforceability of the Criminal Code, according to which sexual intercourse with an underage person is a criminal offense. Hence, we propose that the parents of a daughter, who, at the time of conception of the child, had not reached the age of 15, lose the right to receive child benefits.

11.   Suspension of child benefit payment in cases of neglect of parental care

Cases of neglect of parental care need to be sanctioned more severely, so that the state does not support parents who disregard their children by giving them child benefits. Up to now, payment of these benefits to such parents was not suspended, since they generally had the municipality designated as their special recipient, which also secured them assisted shopping and the like. Therefore, we propose that a parent whose child is demonstrably neglected – hungry, inappropriately dressed, has many unexcused hours at school – loses the entitlement to child benefits or parental allowance (for children up to three years of age) until a potential court decision to exclude the child from the family and place him or her in a child care facility is made (current legislation already lays down that if a child is placed in a facility, the facility receives the child benefits). At the same time, the child will be entitled to food at the community center or at a different facility, which will receive these benefits.

12.   Map of criminality

We want to launch punitive, but also preventive processes, which will help to decrease the level of criminality especially in the east of the country, so that walls will finally be stopped from being built and the growing tension between majority and minority is reduced. Many of the measures in different areas of SEC fail because they are not supported by serious research and numbers, but only by estimations. So called “maps of criminality” are common in criminal and community work in democratic countries. For that reason, their creation and completion must be supported.

13.   Introduction of provisional form of social housing

We want social housing for vulnerable sections of the population to fully respect the principle of merit. Common housing with very strictly set conditions would be the first step: a person accommodated in a common house would not be allowed to drink or to consume any other addictive substances; he or she would have to follow a strict regime, participate at improving, cleaning and repairing the house. This housing would not be free of charge: the person would cover it with his or her housing allowance. In the case of violation of any of the rules, he or she would have to leave the house immediately. On the other hand, if he or she did not break any of the rules for a specific period of time, they would get into the second level. Level two: private rooms within a common house. Same conditions would be applied, only the person would be entitled to more privacy within the private room. If he or she did not break any of the rules for a specific period of time again, they would get an independent social apartment, where rent would be paid. Levels one and two, meaning common housing, could stand in a segregated area as well, close to the settlements. The independent social apartment, however, should be within the urban area or town, so that the person could integrate into the majority.

Measures which can be realized immediately

14.   Completed primary education as a condition for the acquisition of driver´s license

We want to encourage children from SEC to properly complete primary or higher education, not only the compulsory education. Various sociological researches and experience of people in the know show that obtaining a driver´s license is a mantra in Roma settlements. Thus, we suggest that a condition to receive a driver´s license should be completing nine grades of primary school. Driver´s license applicants will be obliged to show a proof of their highest completed education. Furthermore, a driver´s license will need to be shown when registering a car.

We presented a draft of the amendment of the Road Traffic Act, which implements the acquisition of the driver´s license under the condition of having completed primary education, at the 4th National Council meeting :

15.   Sterilization free of charge

We suggest that people from lower social classes should also have access to reproductive health services including sterilization as a form of contraception. Based on a request for voluntary sterilization and informed consent not only in the official national language, but also in the language of national minorities it will be possible to sterilize adults with four children and people over 35 years with three children free of charge. The cost of sterilization, which ranges between 250 and 500 euros, will be covered by the insurance company, which will be far less than the amount of state expenses for a child born into disadvantaged family or social circumstances. We presented a draft of the amendment of the Health Care And Services Connected to Health Care Act at the 7th National Council meeting :

16.   A more precise definition of failure to attend school

Children from Roma settlements, or from SEC, should not complete their compulsory education only formally. Experience shows that these children attend school only so that their parents can receive financial advantages or to eat (lunches almost for free for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds). They come to school unprepared, without any tools (which they also get for free) or just for the last class to get lunch. Therefore, in the Education Act, we suggest a new, stricter definition of failure to attend school, according to which a child fails to attend school if he or she does not participate at the education process in the extent of all classes and if he or she comes to school unprepared, meaning without basic learning tools.

17.   Stricter conditions to be entitled to subsidized lunches

We want to bring the principle of merit into the acquisition of the entitlement to subsidized lunches. It is not enough if the child comes from a socially disadvantaged background, he or she must also fulfil the school attendance defined by law. Hence we suggest that the child will be entitled to a subsidized lunch only if he or she attended all the classes that day (except for duly justified missed classes). If he or she has more than one unexcused class, he or she will lose the entitlement to subsidized lunches the next week.

18.   A change in the relation to school tools for children from SEC

Children from Roma settlements should use the learning tools which they receive for free only at school. Experience shows that they do not appreciate them, deal with them, do not bring them to school or give them to their parents who monetize them. Therefore, we suggest that these tools should stay property of school which must remain at school and is not transferable (we assume that children should do their homework, as well as prepare for next classes in after school care). In case of theft of these tools, this act will be considered an offense and the runner of the school (the municipality) can compensate it by executing the material need benefit from the legal guardians of the child.

19.   Cancellation of the child birth benefit and the additional allowance to the child birth benefit (the so called baby carriage bonus)

It is necessary to reverse the growing trend of young mothers, or better said children, who have children because of a badly set and disorderly social benefit. It amounts up to 800 euros and motivates young girls from poor social backgrounds to get pregnant. For this reason, we suggest to cancel the child birth benefit and the additional allowance to the child birth benefit, which are provided under the Act Nr. 235/1998 Z. z. We suggest to use this saved money to increase parental allowance. See below.

20.   Increase of the parental allowance from the money saved for the cancelled “baby carriage bonus”

We want to encourage mothers with young children who had been active before taking parental leave – who either studied or worked. Therefore, for mothers who had been studying or working at least 270 days over the last four years before parental leave, we propose to raise parental contribution to € 220 (from the current € 194.70). Conversely, for mothers who had neither studied nor worked over the last four years before parental leave, and mothers who had not reached the age of 18 at the time of birth of the child, we propose to reduce parental contribution to half, so to € 110.

21.   Loss of entitlement to child benefits for parents of underage defendants

We want to punish parents whose children commit petty thefts, by a restrictive measure or financial disadvantage. Thus, we suggest immediately suspending the payment of child benefits to the legal guardian of a person against whom prosecution was initiated or of a person who has not attained the age of 18 and against whom criminal charge was raised, for at least one year. If the court decides the innocence of a minor, or if the prosecution terminates for lack of evidence, the child benefit is paid back retrospectively to the legal guardian.

22.   Cancellation of the institute of special recipient

Failure of persons with parental responsibility should not be transferred to the responsibility of local administration. Specific recipient is currently most often used for child benefits in cases of parents´ failure in the fulfilment of parental responsibilities. Generally it is the municipalities and towns who fulfil the function of the specific recipient for the purpose of child benefits. Apart from the administrative burden it also represents the duty to provide so called assisted shopping and the like. For these reasons, the institute of the specific recipient is barely used and is turning out to be inefficient. We are convinced that if parents fail to fulfil their parental responsibilities, they should simply lose the entitlement to child benefits (see below).

23.   Protective allowance only in case of disability

Currently, the amount of the so called “protective allowance” equals the allowance for activation activity, even though protective allowance is supposed to be a compensation for those who cannot participate at activation activities because of objective reasons. However, protective allowance can be gained for example also by people without a significant decrease of their capacity to perform a paid occupation, e.g. without a long-term inability to work (55% of the total amount of the protective allowance). Therefore, we suggest that only people with a 70% decrease of their capacity to perform a paid occupation are entitled to protective allowance. With a lower percentage, the entitlement ceases.

24.   Housing allowance as a separate state social benefit

We want housing allowance to be extracted from the material need benefit, which will make it more forthright and thus less prone to misuse than today. According to qualified estimations, about 30% of the recipients of the housing allowance are not entitled to it and abuse the social system this way. We suggest that housing allowance becomes a separate state social benefit, and that the conditions to receive housing allowance are made stricter to eliminate its abuse: e.g. for one residential unit, only one housing allowance will be provided.

25.   Cancellation of the 17-euro-allowance for school attendance for children in material need

We want to avoid unnecessary affirmative action towards school children in material need, who receive 17 euros for simply fulfilling their statutory obligation, the 10-year-compulsory education. Such pointless measures do not make more children go to school. They only deepen the tensions between a minority and majority. Hence, we suggest to cancel the 17-euro-allowance for school attendance as a part of the material need benefits.

26.   Cancellation of the 2-euro-surcharge for health care

We want to stop the useless wasting of public finance on parts of the material need benefit which have lost the rationale, simplify the material need benefit and thus increase its directness. The introduction of the allowance for health care was a reaction to the so called “hare charges” at the doctor´s, which were cancelled years ago. As a part of the material need benefit, however, they continue to be paid. Therefore, we suggest the cancellation of the 2-euro-surcharge for health care.

27.   Enabling liability to confiscation of the material need benefit until the project “Work instead of benefits” is introduced

We want to achieve better law enforcement among the population group which is basically immune to prosecution for minor offenses and failure to fulfil their duties. In contrast to the current situation, therefore, the material need benefit should be liable to confiscation. It could be confiscated by the state only (in the first place) and the municipality (in the second place), so not by various non-bank institutions and so on. In practice, it would mean that we would give more power to the municipalities to deal with non-payers and to the state to deal with different offenses, which would significantly increase law enforcement e.g. in cases of small thefts and other small crimes, including traffic ones.

28.   Support of the employers of long-term unemployed

We want as many recipients of the material need benefit to break free from dependence on the state and to be able to take care of themselves as possible. This is thinkable only if they become employed. The problem is that this group consists mainly of uneducated and low-qualified people, who have either lost their work habits, or never gained them in the first place. Consequently, hiring such a person is highly inefficient for any employer. We suggest that an employer who decides to recruit a person who has been unemployed for more than 2 years will not have to pay levies for this employee for a time period of the length of the employee´s previous unemployment.

29.   Cancellation of minimum wage

We want to stop the institute of the minimum wage from limiting job creation, especially in the east of the country and for low-skilled or even unskilled labour force. Therefore, we suggest repealing the Act Nr. 663/2007 Z. z. about the minimum wage, and thus abandoning the institute of minimum wage as such, and also amending the Labour Code, where § 121 minimum wage rates would be omitted. These modifications should be realized in relation to the changes of the material need benefits and the Employment Services Act (project “Work instead of benefits).

30.   Adjusting the tax base when calculating disability pension

We want to reduce the number of those who abuse the welfare system, and eliminate fraud in the granting and calculation of disability pensions. Thus, we suggest amending the Social Security Act Nr. 461/2003 so that one of the conditions to be entitled to pension would be the number of years of pension insurance, depending also on the age of the insured: under 20 years at least 1 year, over 20 and under 24 at least 2 years and over 24 and under 28 at least 3 years. When considering entitlement, also the study period after the age of 18 will be added to the calculation of the pension insurance.

Bratislava, October 2012

Original article here (in Slovak).