The research Mapping Social Care Services within the Mandate of Local Governments and Material Support from Local Government Budgets in the Republic of Serbia, conducted at the initiative of the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit by the Centre for Social Policy with the support from the Republic Institute for Social Protection and the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities, was presented at an online conference on 9 July 2020.
Conducted in the Republic of Serbia between May 2019 and March 2020 in 145 local governments, the Mapping represents the third cycle of reviewing social care services, as well as the first study on material support provided from the local budgets. Prior to this mapping exercise, which used the data for 2018, social care services had been mapped in 2012 and 2015. The research was supported by the Swiss Confederation.
In the introductory address, the Director of the Republic Institute for Social Protection Mr Božidar Dakić stated that the mapping of social care services and material support at the local level provided unique insight into a strategically very important topic and the possibility of correction of administrative data and, most importantly, that it was conceived as a continuous process. Mr Dakić emphasised the fact that mapping findings were a reflection of the overall system, as well as that the mapping process itself had been greatly improved over the three research cycles.
Ms Biljana Ćusić Radmilović, representative of the Swiss Cooperation Office, highlighted social care services as a highly important factor of achievement of the globally accepted objective – to ensure that no person is left out, especially in times such as the current global pandemic, which showed once more the vulnerability of certain social groups and the significance of adequately organised social protection. “Social protection should respect the diversity of social interests and needs of all people”, said Ms Ćusić Radmilović. She also stated that Switzerland hoped that the forthcoming amendments to the Law on Social Protection would result in enhanced social protection and the exercise of the rights of poor people, as well as that the National Social Protection Strategy would cater to society’s needs by defining the courses of further development of social protection policies through their more effective and efficient linking with the national development priorities and the priorities of other sectors.
Ms Milica Stranjaković from the Centre for Social Policy presented the key findings of the mapping of social care services, a collaborative effort of 440 local representatives in 145 local governments in the Republic of Serbia. The findings indicated that social care services were still not sufficiently developed and were unevenly available. As Ms Stranjaković explained, social care services covered a total of 25.4 thousand clients, while 8 local governments (Bosilegrad, Gadžin Han, Odžaci, Požega, Svrljig, Trgovište, Ub and Žitoradja) provided no services whatsoever. The co-author of the research stated that “the most prevalent services were home care, personal child attendant and day care for children with developmental disabilities, whereas services for independent living were markedly underdeveloped”, and noted that the overall picture had not changed significantly compared to that in 2012 and 2015, although some progress was made, such as the expanded scale of some services, the increased funding and local budget allocations etc.
The mapping findings pertaining to material support within the competence of local governments were presented by Ms Gordana Matković, Programme Director at the Centre for Social Policy. Ms Matković explained that this part of the research, which was conducted for the first time, covered two types of benefits (cash and in kind), classified into three groups: means-tested benefits for poor individuals and families; category-specific benefits without a means test; as well as birth-related benefits, work-parenthood reconciliation measures and other population/pro-birth policy measures. Several indicators were used for mapping purposes, among which Ms Matković highlighted the programme size indicator, the scale of intervention indicator, coverage and adequacy. “The total expenditures on material support within the competence of local governments amounted to RSD 7.3 billion (0.14% of the GDP), which was twice the amount spent on social care services, and half the amount of allocations for financial social assistance. Of the total amount of expenditures, one half was incurred by Serbia’s three largest cities – Belgrade, Novi Sad and Niš”, said Ms Matković.
Ms Biljana Mladenović from the Serbian Government’s Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit emphasised the significance of the mapping in the broader context of SIPRU’s commitment to promoting the use and significance of social inclusion and poverty reduction indicators. “As regards the significance of the mapping, it should be noted that even some of the much more developed countries, including the ones with fully decentralised social protection, do not have such a highly detailed system for monitoring local services and, as of late, cash benefits. Furthermore, it is a unique decision-making tool in the field of social policy, and a fully developed instrument for local policy assessment and improvement”, said Ms Mladenović, emphasising the possibility for local governments to consider how their situation changed over time and how they compared with other local governments as the key value of the mapping exercise. She concluded that “the introduction of social protection registries, in conjunction with the modernisation of the information system connecting the national and local levels, is the key precondition for further development of the social protection system”.
As part of the second panel, which addressed the topic of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Nataša Todorović from the Red Cross of Serbia discussed the key Red Cross activities aimed at overcoming the impacts of the pandemic, in the form of cooperation with the relevant institutions and the participation in the work of crisis response teams, as well as the provision of assistance to the most vulnerable population. “In the considered period, 578.256 people in Serbia received some form of assistance from the Red Cross; soup kitchens alone provided 2,000,273 meals and 27,396 units of blood were collected”, explained Ms Todorović and stressed the importance of promoting volunteerism and solidarity, as well as the need to develop mental health services. The Red Cross experiences in Pirot during the pandemic and, especially, during the state of emergency, were shared by Ms Sanja Stanković, who gave an account of how this organisation, supported by volunteers, responded to the challenges of increased demand for meals and the delivery of food supplies in this local community.
Social medicine teacher Ms Bosiljka Djikanović illustrated the significance of public health in the local community in the times of the coronavirus pandemic: “There is no good health of individuals without a well organised public health system and it seems that the current global pandemic, as a plague in which we are both witnesses and partakers, is the most obvious confirmation of the significance of public health and all actions that a community and society should undertake for the benefit of their members, which are beyond the capacities of individuals and fall in the scope of social health care”.
In their closing observations, the panellists stressed that social care services had faced a number of challenges during the pandemic, that it became clear how important they actually were, especially at the local level, and that the sustainability of the current system should be given special consideration. They concluded that the mapping was an indication of what resources were available. According to the panellists, future actions should be focused on the identification of all legal options that could be activated in order to neutralise the impact of the pandemic, especially with regard to vulnerable groups.