Written by: Biljana Mladenović, Deputy Manager and Economic Analyst, Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia
This year marks 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Life in extreme poverty fundamentally violates human rights, and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17 October) is a reminder that about half a million people in the Republic of Serbia are unable to meet their minimum existential needs, and that the at-risk-of-poverty rate remains among the highest compared to European Union member states.
The need to improve the living standard of the most vulnerable persons was recognized by the Government of the Republic of Serbia, and in May 2016 it has adopted the Employment and Social Policy Reform Programme as part of the European Union accession process. The first report on the implementation of measures planned by this document is expected to be drafted by the end of the year, when we will be able to assess the extent of compliance with the schedule of the planned reforms.
A total of 7.2% of the population exhibited consumption beneath the absolute poverty line in 2017, amounting to RSD 12,045 per month, i.e. consumption insufficient to meet the basic living needs. The poverty profile indicates the particular vulnerability of persons outside urban centres, where the poverty rate is twice as high as for persons living in urban areas (10.5% compared to 4.9%), the population of the regions of Southern and Easter Serbia where the poverty rate is 12.1%, and of households with multiple members and children. The key causes of remaining in poverty are the labour market status and level of education – nearly one in five persons living in households where the head of the household did not complete primary school are poor, as is nearly one in four persons living in a household where the head is unemployed.
A significant segment of the population of the Republic of Serbia is at risk of poverty, i.e. has income below the 60% of the median equivalent income – as many as 1.8 million persons. According to the latest data available from the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) implemented in 2016, Serbia was the worst ranked in an EU framework on the percentage of the population at risk of poverty (25.5%). The threshold for risk of poverty, i.e. the relative poverty line was RSD 15,416 per month for a single member household in 2015, or RSD 32,374 for a four-member household with two adults and two children up to 14 years of age. The poverty threshold in the Republic of Serbia is below that of any of the 28 EU countries, except Romania.
A total of 15.7% of the population was at permanent risk of poverty, i.e. at risk of poverty during the current year, and at least two of the preceding three years, according to SILC data (2016).
The feeling of poverty is highly expressed in Serbia. Nearly two thirds of the population (63.9%) are subjectively poor, i.e. responding to the question about the ability of the household to “make ends meet” they respond with “difficult” or “very difficult”. This is another indicator where Serbia is at the bottom of the European scale.
The protection of the minimum living standard at the national level is performed primarily through financial social assistance. During 2017 a total of 260 thousand individuals, i.e. 104 thousand households made use of the right to financial social assistance, and the “administrative poverty line” by income in Serbia was RSD 8,120 per equivalent adult.
Up-to-date data on poverty and social exclusion in the Republic of Serbia can be accessed here.
The process of amending the Law on Social Welfare represents an excellent opportunity to respond to part of the recognized challenges. It is extremely important that the amendments to the Law carefully consider potential changes under the section related to the adequacy of the protection of children and youth – particularly parts determining the amount of financial social assistance and weighting factors applied within a household.
We are still lacking responses to many questions of importance for improving the living standards of the population – we do now know the profile of administratively poor persons, we do not know who the long-term poor are, what the reasons are why they cannot exit poverty, whether the level and method of protecting the elderly and infirm through existing rights is adequate, etc. To gain a better insight into the characteristics of the most vulnerable part of the population and to be able to more adequately create and implement policies contributing to an improvement of their status, it is necessary to open date, to exchange them and use them. Data on beneficiaries of financial social assistance is currently being published irregularly, and the level of available information is insufficient for improving the policies and living standards of citizens.
The European and national level registers a recovery of economic activities during the past years, with positive and accelerating growth rates of the gross domestic product, but with no impact on the basic indicators of poverty and inequality. Therefore, the question of how these topics will become the focus of active actions still remains.
The Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia remains committed to reporting on the status of the most vulnerable persons in the country with the aim of improving their status through the development of social inclusion policies. In accordance with this, we provide intensive support for institutions and relevant partners with the aim if improving the quality and availability of data on poverty and social inclusion. Intersectoral cooperation, exchange of data and knowledge, inclusion of the know-how of the academic community and practitioners will enable us to gain a better understanding and to more adequately respond to the needs of the most vulnerable.
(The text was originally published as the Introduction to the 53rd Newsletter on Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction.)
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