The Minister reiterated that neither the level of poverty nor the minimum pension had been increased for more than ten years. Following the judgments of the Constitutional Court (currently the decision has been made in four out of a total of six proceedings), the Ministry of Welfare has prepared proposals for increasing the guaranteed minimum income level and determining the risk of poverty. However, the ministry has most likely approached the solution of the problem mechanically, operating with various figures and budget calculations, disregarding one of the main conclusions of the Constitutional Court: the purpose of various benefits and the method of determining the amount of benefits are not clear.
There can be no discussion, money must be
Minister of Welfare Ramona Petraviča presented the deputies of the Saeima with the proposals prepared by the Ministry on how to determine both the level of the guaranteed minimum income and the income threshold at which a person or family can be recognized as destitute. The Ministry of Welfare offers two options for determining both social assistance indicators.
The main calculation indicator was the median income, which was 545 euros in 2018 (this is the average income indicator of the Latvian population, not taking into account the lowest and highest incomes), and the at-risk-of-poverty threshold is 60 percent of these 545 euros. In turn, the minimum income level could be set at 40 percent, ie 218 euros, which would also correspond to the income level of a poor person (currently 128 euros). The ministry’s experts also propose to determine one – the income level of the needy person, without dividing the needy or low-income person separately, and it would be 273 euros. The government is offered to decide which option to choose. The Ministry proposes to set the guaranteed minimum income level at 20 or 30 percent of the median – 109 or 164 euros per month. Such calculations cannot be said to be the intention of one ministry, they are also used elsewhere in Europe.
Ramona Petraviča admitted that negotiations on next year’s budget have not yet started, however, “the level of the guaranteed minimum income will have to be increased in order to comply with the Constitutional Court’s decision on this issue; there will be no discussion. The minister is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš next week, but an offer will be submitted to the government at the end of the summer.
What are they about people who receive GMI?
So many lines of numbers and terms confused MEPs because “you don’t see people behind them”. You can agree. However, the question is why MPs and politicians in general did not have such an issue, even last year, when the concept of the minimum income developed by the Ministry of Welfare, which has been worked on for years, was simply rejected and a formal political decision was made. Pēteris Laiškalns, an expert on social issues, reminded that
instead, a politically initiated decision was taken on a differentiated tax-free minimum for low-wage earners, where the beneficiaries were dependents but “did nothing to reduce poverty”.
Who are the working people in Latvia who receive the benefit to ensure the guaranteed minimum income? It may be that a person is working but at the same time he is entitled to such a benefit. The data show that more than 40,000 people were destitute last year, of whom 17,249 received direct guaranteed minimum income benefits. The lists of poor people do include working people – 3,378, of whom 1,374 also received the guaranteed minimum benefit. “Such a situation can arise if there is one breadwinner for a family who works with the minimum wage, but there are several children or dependents in the family,” explained R. Petraviča. Looking at the data on what is the minimum pension in Latvia or what is the minimum social security for persons with disabilities, most people do not have questions about who are the people of retirement age who are poor. Data from the State Social Insurance Agency show that the pension granted to at least 20,000 Latvian seniors is in the amount of 20-100 euros, but more than a tenth (!) Of pensioners have pensions under 200 euros.
We are not satisfied
The specialist of the Ombudsman’s Office Ineta Rezevska, getting acquainted with the solutions, admitted that only the figures and the technical approach are visible in the offer of the Ministry of Welfare. “We are not satisfied, the aspect of human dignity has not been observed,” said I. Rezevska. The most important thing would be to reform the whole social assistance system so that the purpose of social assistance is clear, to whom, in what situations and what material support should be provided. What is the level of monthly income that would provide basic needs? If they are not 109 or 164 euros per month, then how much? There is no real answer to this question yet. Last year, the Ministry of Welfare was working on a new subsistence minimum basket to reflect minimum consumption needs. It was initially estimated that the monthly consumption expenditure per person was 333 euros.
The Chairman of the Social and Labor Affairs Committee of the Saeima Andris Skride suggested forming an expert commission or working group to agree on these issues, taking into account such different opinions and dissatisfaction with the options offered by one ministry. “We all live in one country!” said A. Skride. True, it did not receive much response from anyone.