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Thursday, 20 February 2014

A Municipal Meeting Held in Surdulica to Discuss Improvement of Access to Social Welfare and Health Protection for Vulnerable Population in the South of Serbia

On 20 February 2014 a meeting was held in Surdulica with representatives of municipal authorities, institutions and civil society. This was the fourth and last meeting organised by Praxis in Pčinja District within the framework of the project Access to Social Welfare and Health Protection for Vulnerable Groups in the South of Serbia - Phase II, implemented by Praxis with the support of the Foundation Caritas Luxembourg. The meeting was attended by representatives of the Social Welfare Centre, Child Protection Department, the Organisation of the Red Cross, a member of the Municipal Council, pedagogical assistants of primary schools "Vuk Karadžić" and “Pera Mačkatovac" and representatives of non-governmental organisations Caritas Luxembourg Foundation, Roma Education Society and Veliko Srce from Surdulica, and Roma activists.

Based on the information obtained during the implementation of project activities, the vulnerable population in the Municipality of Surdulica is most often faced with the problems related to the exercise of the right to a one-off and financial social assistance. The way in which a social worker determines the amount of missed earnings and also the way of determining the entire socio-economic status of the family are seen as a major barrier to accessing the right to social protection. At the meeting, representatives of non-governmental organisations dealing with the protection of the rights of Roma pointed to a number of irregularities and poor treatment in the procedure of determining the socio-economic status of a family. In such situations, the social worker determines that persons can rent out their excess residential space or sell their real estate and movable property, without taking into consideration various circumstances that bring into question the estimated possibilities of individuals and families. Representatives of the vulnerable population stated that due to social intolerance and pronounced social distance towards the Roma population, it was almost certain that the possibilities for renting out excess residential space were significantly reduced. Also, as regards the possibilities of missed earnings, the legitimacy of the concept is brought into question, but the representatives also stated that they were not likely to miss opportunities to earn income but that opportunities were almost inexistent.

The representative of the Social Welfare Centre said that the actual needs of citizens far exceeded the limited funds from the national budget allocated for assistance to socially vulnerable individuals and families, and that the institution’s capacity was limited and usually insufficient since the Social Welfare Centre in Surdulica only had one social worker. Moreover, the representative of this institution believed that, in addition to insufficient capacity of the institution, the problem for both requesting parties and decision makers lied in certain legal concepts, such as missed earnings. In fact, she agreed that such imprecisely defined category and limited capacity rendered the determination of correct and complete factual situation very difficult, which was usually perceived by citizens as violation of their rights.

Given that the meeting was not attended by any representative of the Republic Fund for Health Insurance, in part of the meeting where access to health care for vulnerable groups of citizens was discussed, it was noted that access to this group of rights was often impossible for the most vulnerable persons, and it was concluded that it was necessary to intensify advocacy efforts to address this systemic problem.

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