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President of the Strategic Council on Social Policy Tomc: Slovenia is a welfare state but with many challenges

SLOVENIA, May 14 - She said that the area of operations of the newly established Strategic Council is set very broadly, but the goal is clear. Members of the Council want to use their proposals to contribute to the development of a transparent, fair and simple system that will provide people with the highest possible level of social security.

Initially, Tomc put the challenges of the Slovenian social policy in the broader context of the goals of the social European Union: at least a 78% employment rate, at least 60% of adult trainees each year, and a 15-million reduction in the number of people at risk of social exclusion or poverty.

Given the funds intended for social policy, Slovenia is in many areas above the European average, said the President of the Strategic Council. In 2020, EUR 1,966.1 million (46% more compared to 2010) of the State budget was used for transfers to individuals and households, which is the largest amount ever for transfers from the State budget. Slovenia is otherwise among the countries with the lowest level of risk. The data shows that pensions and social transfers contribute greatly to this. Tomc pointed out that we should be concerned about a large discrepancy between the at-risk-of-poverty rate among those over 65 (especially among the female population), which is among the highest in Europe, and the at-risk-of-poverty rate among those under 64, which is among the lowest in Europe.

As one of the concrete proposals, she pointed out the establishment of a more transparent system of data on social transfers, which in her opinion, could be the first step towards a fairer and more transparent system. She also mentioned that it would be useful for all beneficiaries to receive a provisional calculation once a year of how much they received from the state, in direct payments or in waiving payment obligations, as this would increase the awareness and responsibility of the people receiving such aid.

Prime Minister Janez Janša and Minister of Labour, Family and Social Affairs Janez Cigler Kralj also addressed the participants of the Strategic Council.

The Prime Minister highlighted the recent Social Summit in Portugal, and mentioned social dialogue as one of the key pillars of the European way of life. Europe swears by a social market economy which demands social dialogue. He emphasised that the green and digital transition will also have a decisive impact on the social policy. Slovenia is in many areas above the European average, while the "grey image" is the result of older people with low pensions. We must pay special attention to this category of people in need, the Prime Minister pointed out.

Minister Cigler Kralj welcomed the establishment of the Strategic Council. He stressed that the external strategic outlook will be very useful, as the Ministry, especially now at the time of the epidemic, is often too service-minded. The Ministry of Social Affairs responded well in the epidemic, helping to alleviate social deprivation in the labour market and hardships of the vulnerable groups. Some anti-coronavirus measures, e.g. strengthening of the human resources in the care homes, will apply until the second half of the next year, which will bridge the period until the adoption of the law on long-term care.

In his introduction, the Minister also mentioned that social policy is also part of the coalition agreement. He emphasised the commitment to the separation of family and social policy in order to strengthen each other, the need to simplify the system and regulations, and to correct certain injustices in the pension legislation.

Key topics discussed: programmes to help families, placement of long-term care in the local environment, activation programmes for long-term recipients of financial assistance.

Almost all members of the Council attended the discussion. The majority welcomed the establishment, and agreed that an analysis of the functioning of social policy in our country is necessary. As they cover very diverse areas, their proposals cover a very wide range of social policy measures. Many pointed out the need for better control over the receipt of financial assistance, and due to the threat of social exclusion, they particularly emphasised the issue of receiving the assistance for a prolonged period of time. The discussion also highlighted observations from the field that the epidemic caused or intensified great hardships in many families, and that the profession perceives more alcoholism, as well as physical and psychological abuse. They called for urgent action and the development of assistance programmes for families.

Dr Jaka Cepec from the Faculty of Economics started the discussion. He emphasised the need to record interregional differences in the country, as the risk of poverty is significantly higher in some parts of the country. He proposed the establishment of single points on the model of e-Vem, where the state would actively help individuals to obtain all social transfers that belong to them. Patricija Čular from the municipality of Brežice also advocated for a good information support centre with independent counselling and legal assistance. Dr Vlado Dimovski from the Faculty of Economics agreed that the social system needs a certain level of modernisation, but he believes that more attention should be paid to obtaining European funds in this area. Tomaž Merše was critical of the fact that the social system includes social protection measures and family policy, while there are no demographic measures. He also emphasised that possible abuses of the social transfer system should be detected by the Financial Administration and not by social services.

Dr Liljana Rihter from the Faculty of Social Work said that the Strategic Council could contribute to a more coordinated operation in the field of social security, social protection, family policy, and long-term care policy, etc. She believes that one of the key challenges is the analysis of social policy goals, both general and area-specific, and she emphasised that we should answer the question of whether social policy is an investment in society in the long run, or only a cost that deprives other systems of resources.

The director of the Institute for long-term care, Dr Alenka Oven, Jože Ramovš from the Anton Trstenjak Institute, and some other panellists focused on the area of long-term care. They all welcomed the upcoming adoption of the law in this area, and pointed out that the current system is too complex, without adequate care criteria, while funding burdens several generations, and the lack of staff is critical. Alenka Oven also pointed out that in the country we do not have data on how many people actually need this care, and Jože Ramovš emphasised the need to place such care in small communities and the local environment.

Dr Andreja Poljanec and the director of CSD Gorenjska, Urška Repar Justin, pointed out the many difficulties that families face, and called for the development and increase of investments in family assistance programmes. Both pointed out that the epidemic had greatly worsened the situation on the ground: On the one hand, Repar Justin emphasised the increased problem of addiction and physical violence, while Poljanec pointed out the hardships and burnout of welfare professionals. Poljanec also stressed that there are not enough concessionary forms of assistance available to young people and children.

The director of the Trbovlje Regional Office of the Employment Service, Vilma Strniša, pointed out the area of unemployment. She emphasised that while social transfers help people to overcome unemployment more easily, they do not lure them into employment. She suggested that the state should allocate more funds to socially useful work. In this way, we would help the long-term unemployed to reintegrate into the labour market, the possibility of social exclusion would be reduced, and they would be able to reach the end of their working lives. She also encouraged the comprehensive treatment of the long-term unemployed who receive social transfers.

Barbara Kobal Tomc, MA, from the Social Protection Institute, referred to Dr Richter and emphasised that social policy is an investment, and the modern welfare state is the one that invests in prevention; she described social policy as an important cohesive element of the society. She said in the discussion that the ratio between those who are employed and those who are "maintained" by social transfers is changing, and advocated for (social) activation and strengthening of the power of long-term recipients of financial assistance. She described the establishment of the welfare state as one of the most important achievements of civilisation.