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13.12.2002 | Oleksiy Svetikov, Severodonetsk

Beggary in the Lugansk oblast

   

It may seem unbelievable, but the Lugansk oblast, together with the Chernivtsi and Nikolayev ones, make the three poorest oblasts in Ukraine. As to the industrial output the Lugansk oblast is the fifth in the state, the average wages here are higher than the average wages in Ukraine.

The reason of this critical situation is not only the state of economy, but also the so-called Jinny coefficient (the statistical measure of inequality) – the coefficient, after which the World Bank estimates the distribution of general national product. This coefficient in Ukraine is one of the worst in the world: the 71 stplace out of 96 countries. During the last ten years the part of the citizens having the highest income got, on the average, 41% of the total income in Ukraine, the equal part having minimum incomes got only 8. 6%. In the Lugansk oblast the Jinny coefficient is even worse.



COMMON SITUATION

Statistics is a concrete discipline. 53% of working people in the Lugansk oblast have the pay less than the living wage, and 20% of peasants – less than 140 UAH. A member of the Lugansk oblast department of the Voters’ Committee of Ukraine (LOD VCU), an experienced medical nurse, was offered a job in a private hospital with the wages 60 UAH per month. The average size of pensions in the oblast is 147 UAH, which is less than the official living wage for the people, who lost their ability to work (268 UAH). The proportion of the pensioners in the oblast is 804. 9 thousand persons out of 2546. 1 thousand population (according to the census of 2001). If to take into account that the actual level of unemployment in the oblast is 26% (after the assessment of V. Pristiuk, the deputy head of the oblast state administration), it becomes clear that more than two thirds of the oblast population are poor. They are pensioners and investigation, most families with children, jobless.

These are oblique proofs of the high poverty level. Actually, the proportion of the people, who turn for the state aid, is considerably small, and one may even have an illusion of the relative wellbeing. So, only 500 thousand people obtain living accommodation subsidies, 105 thousand poor and unable-to-work citizens asked for money and other kinds of aid in the first quarter of 2002, among them 68. 6 thousand single unable-to-work citizens and invalids. 84. 6 thousand people got money aid from various funds, and 112 unable-to-work citizens with minimum income got money aid from the state. 4. 3 thousand persons obtained one-time financial aid, and 15. 1 thousand – got other kinds of aid; the average sum of such aid was 51. 51 and 34. 71 UAH, respectively. The aid in the form of hot dinners were obtained by the every sixth, food products – every fourth, industrial goods – every seventh, medical drugs – every 12 th; 500 citizens got some fuel. 100 thousand persons obtained money for the families with children, 7 thousand – for the poor families.

These numbers only seem to be significant, but 500 thousand is 20% of the population. A little less than the number of the people, who need aid. This is a result of the social policy of the state, the main essence of which is to create the enormous number of bureaucratic obstacles for those, who need aid. The poverty may be also estimated by objective criteria – by quantitative levels of consumption. According to these criteria the Lugansk oblast may be related to the poorest regions of Ukraine. We occupy one of the last places in consuming meat and meat products, milk and eggs per person, the oblast dwellers buy cars and home hi-tech very infrequently.

Certainly, not all population layers suffer from poverty. We will consider several most sensitive categories of the population.



PENSIONERS

According to the data of the oblast state administration Main Directorate of employment and social protection of the population, 215. 1 thousand pensioners (their total number is about 800 thousand) got the pensions less than the established level, the average pension sum was 85. 21 UAH. Among them there were 36. 2 thousand pensioners, whose pensions were less than the minimum, and 5 thousand pensioners with minimum pensions.

The especially painful moral problem in Ukraine is single old people, who need permanent care. 20 old people’s homes for 2891 people work in the oblast. This year the houses were inhabited by 2784 old people and invalids. The data made public by the press service of the oblast administration testify that this number is quite insufficient: 89 thousand single old people were observed by the oblast medical establishments in the first half of this year, 38 thousand out of them needed permanent care. It is obvious that hospitals cannot replace the old people’s homes.

The problem is partially solved at the expense of social aid services intended for servicing pensioners and single unable-to-work citizens – 34 such centers function in the oblast. They include 36 departments of social aid, 21 departments of social rehabilitation, 13 departments of medical rehabilitation and 10 departments for temporary and permanent living.

According to the data of the oblast Main Directorate of employment and social protection, these departments render aid at home to 15. 486 thousand single people and invalids, every social worker cares over 12 patients.

Yet, if to believe the press service data, this is twice less than the demanded number.

CHILDREN

Children from the so-called unhappy families and families with many children suffer most of all. Extreme result of poverty is homeless children, who appeared in the oblast about ten years ago. Oleksiy Omelchenko, the head of the oblast educational department, informed that about one thousand children in the Lugansk oblast do not attend school. „Among them there are such, who never came to school“, he said.

Taking account of these data, one cannot help to conclude that the state care over such children is inadequate, since the total number of places in boarding school of the oblast (where children obtain complete set of food and care from the state) hardly reaches 1450.

Unfortunately, the actions like the program „Children of streets“, which are conducted by the Lugansk Red Cross, cannot solve the problem of homeless children. During the last 7 months Lugansk homeless children got almost 9 thousand free dinners for the total sum of 18 thousand hryvnas. But is it an efficient aid? Or just a way to attract public attention to this urgent problem?

Yet, children’s poverty is not limited to tramping. The great financial inequality of families distorts education and inflicts great damage to children health, especially psychic. 60 thousand pupils, almost every fifth, are observed in the oblast dispensaries. Psychic and behavioral disorders domineer – 60% pupils suffer from them.

Only 34% pupils obtain hot food. Only small proportion of children can get the needed textbooks at school, and this happens when not all families are capable to purchase the books.

Worn or cheep clothes and footwear, absence or bad quality of the stationery – all this inflicts moral and psychical damage to a child.



FAMILIES WITH MANY CHILDREN

The typical problem for this population category is unjust (for them) system of paying the communal services, owing to which almost all such families may be related to habitual non-payers. The most important communal payments (heating, hot water, gas and water) are determined in Ukraine proportionally to the number of family members (independently of age), which does not respond to the real expenditures.

The size of the state aid to such families is extremely low and, in fact, relates to the lip service.



JOBLESS

Official statistics affirms that the number of jobless in the oblast is 55 thousand, among them 68% get financial aid of the size of 67 UAH per head per month, 15% -- from 67 to 100 UAH, 8. 7% -- from 100 to 140 UAH and 2. 9% -- more than 200 UAH.

It should be mentioned that the official data on unemployment cannot be the correct assessment of the real number of those, who do not get the income from official jobs. The system and the procedure of registering the unemployed in Ukraine is such that discourages the jobless to turn to the labor registry office after finishing the term of paying the aid. And this term is very short.

The unemployment level is best evaluated by the average number of workers of all organizations of all forms of property. Su, from 1995 to 2000 this index diminished in the oblast from 939. 4 to 711. 6, while the number of the registered jobless was 57872. Certainly, not all 228 thousand, who lost their jobs during these five years, have no incomes.



CAPRICES of the Ukrainian laws

In our opinion, the Ukrainian legislators and the government must decide for whom the social laws in Ukraine exist – for world public or for the Ukrainian people. Because some parts of these laws for the native population seem to be sheer mockery. It is strange, but, by Ukrainian laws, a person having the status of extremely poor… have no right for the state aid. According to the laws, citizens, who have the monthly income less than 153 hryvnas are related to the poor, less than 120 hryvnas – to extremely poor. Yet, according to the instructions on rendering state financial aid, the aid is given when the income per a family member does not exceed 80 hryvnas.

A set of contradictions exists also in determining border of poverty in various official documents. So, the Ukrainian President’s Decree of 15 August 2001 „On the strategy of fighting poverty“ determines the average size of the monthly expenditures per head as 175 UAH. Lugansk officials determine the border of poverty equal to 330 UAH, while the consumer’s basket is 348 UAH per person.

All this terminological silage is intended for the international use only.

There exist other things, which are practically incomprehensible. For example, the size of the state pension or the aid to the jobless is such that additional financial aid is needed. Or several different financial aids and subsidies are paid. It would be more rational to do all of this in one package.

Certainly, the state cannot render greater aid than it is afforded by the state budget. But, I believe, the limit size of the state aid must be determined (and guaranteed!) by the state. This limit may be named any way, but the social policy must be based upon it.

There is one more peculiar feature of the Ukrainian social laws: it bears a paternalistic character. As an example, I will quote the message of the press service of the oblast administration concerning the check of the data given by citizens for obtaining subsidies:

„When checking the population on the possession of land plots it appeared that 718 families concealed them for getting subsidies. In towns: Lisichansk – 8 families, Lugansk – 97, Severodonetsk – 47, Rubezhnoe – 32…“

The legislation logic in this case is quite determinate: one must not work to get the state aid. One must not attempt to change one’s lot to the better in no case, since the state will immediately stop the aid. Otherwise it is difficult to explain why one must conceal the income from the work on own one hundredth of acre. If one may afford irony, then the legislators had to include prohibiting cooking food at one’s home, since this is obviously a payable service rendered to oneself.

At last, another post-Soviet feature of the Ukrainian social legislation is its extreme complexity. It was done with the aim to save some money for really poor people, but actually it saved nothing. As before, the access to the common purse have not those, who need it more, but those, who are most agile and insolent. Besides, bureaucrats standing „at the tap“ have their share. For example, about 10% of the applications handed by citizens to MP Yu. Ioffe are the requests to help to get the subsidies for living accommodation.

That is why I believe that any strategy of fighting poverty must include changes of the existing laws at least in two directions:


• terminological and procedural simplification of the laws, permanent monitoring of its efficiency (including monitoring by public organizations), operative correction of normative acts;


• liberalization of the laws in favor of active citizens, who try to improve their economic status.

As to the first direction, Ukraine seems already to have made first steps. Since 1 January 2003 the same form will be used for getting all kinds of social aid in Ukraine, namely: aid to poor families, to families with children; subsidies for living accommodation; money aid to poor persons, to those, who live with an invalid of the 1 stor 2 ndgroup with psychic disorders; aid for funeral; aid to handicapped from childhood and handicapped children.



REGIONAL PROGRAM OF FIGHTING POVERTY

The third session of the Lugansk oblast council, which was held on 22 august 2002, approved the oblast program of fighting poverty. The Lugansk oblast became the fourth oblast, which adopted such a program – after the Kyiv, Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk oblasts.

The development of the Lugansk program began in April of the previous year, when 34 addressees received the letters with the request to send their propositions concerning this problem. Among the addressees there were: the oblast administration, trade unions, organizations of war veterans, handicapped, and other public organizations. This February the draft of the program was compiled. The institute of social-labor relations of the Ministry of labor and social policy of Ukraine took part in the development of this draft.

On 3 July 2002 the scientific and practical conference was held, which discussed the draft. Before the session the draft was discussed in the commissions of the oblast council.

It should be noted that the Lugansk program has substantial differences from the programs adopted in other oblasts. Volodymir Pristiuk, a deputy of the head of the oblast administration, told that the projects of other oblasts is planned for ten years, and the Lugansk program is planned to last only for five years. During this time the efforts of the authorities will be realized in three main directions: creation of jobs, creation of well-paid jobs and increasing the level of social security of the population. The program determines the branches for priority growth: coal production, metallurgy, machine building and agriculture. The cost of the project is 47 million hryvnas, the oblast, according to V. Pristiuk, being able to finance the project by itself, without the help of the Cabinet of Ministers. The oblast budget and various funds will be main donors. V. Pristiuk believes that for solving financial questions for fighting poverty one must use the social programs already existing in the country, and the project itself must take account of regional peculiarities.

Thus, in our opinion, the Lugansk regional program of fighting poverty is actually the union of the program of social and economic development, which had been adopted before by the oblast council, with the tasks set in the Strategy of fighting poverty, approved by the President. This eclectic mixture will hardly have the creative potential.

Yana Osadchaya, an observer of the Lugansk newspaper „Kuryer“, assessed the program in the following way: „Two scientific and practical conferences were devoted to this topic, the experience of other towns was thoroughly investigated. As a result, all these clever heads mastered three multivalent postulates, which entered the above-mentioned program, to wit: creation of jobs, creation of well-paid jobs and organizing the social protection of the population. The logic is simple: new jobs -- paying wages – paying taxes – social protection. That is conventional socially oriented economy. The measures envisaged by the program are not extremely diverse. So let us call a spade a spade: fighting poverty is nothing else as a complete readjustment of the national economy. By the way, so you know that the mentioned program has been already acting since 2001? Do not you feel how your purse is becoming heavier and heavier? But ten years has not passed yet…“



NGOs’ functions

In this context one cannot expect the discussion of the specialized NGOs, which were attracted by the region authorities for the development of the program from the very beginning. The functions of the veterans’ and invalids’ organizations are honorable, but strictly limited – to lobby the interests of the concerned categories of persons as to privileges, material aid, additional services, etc. This specialization obviously does not concern the problem of poverty: for example, few will call the WW2 veterans poor people.

That is why, in our opinion, the main stimulus on the side of public in the process of fighting poverty will be universal organizations and the organization, which unite the most vulnerable categories (and such organizations exist). The activities of these organizations shall be directed at solving social and not economic problems.

From the experience of the LOD VCU and our partners one can determine the following directions of such activities:

1. Attracting attention to the problems of the population categories vulnerable to the poverty and lobbying their positive solution. Some experience of such activities already exists in the oblast: in August 17 political and public organizations of Severodonetsk , which cooperate in the framework of the round table of town problems, handed to the town council the local initiative concerning the additional measures for social aid to families with many children. In our opinion, the objects of lobbying may be: expansion of the network of the houses for treatment and life of old people and the handicapped, increase of the number of places in houses for children without parents and children from unfavorable families, additional privileges concerning the nourishment and provision with textbooks of children from poor families, etc.

An organization with the unique statute is among the partners of the LOD VCU. This is the Severodonetsk public organization „Vidrodjennia“. The organization unites the jobless, mainly women, and its goal is to facility the material state of its members, who have no permanent job. This unite already organized a peculiar studio for self-servicing, communication evening parties for psychological relaxation, they find temporary jobs for their members (in agriculture). The organization has branches in various places of the oblast, its experience is worth of expansion.

2. Informational and educational work for overcoming paternalistic habits, which are often the reason of the difficult material state of able-to-work people, who, in principle must not be in the most vulnerable categories.

3. Monitoring of the activities of regional and local authorities in realizing the Strategy of fighting poverty, anti-corruption campaign.

4. Public consultations concerning obtaining the state social aid, attracting public and political organizations to the work on increasing the activity of citizens in their addressing to the state for social aid.

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