Bonus for social benefit recipients continues to divide
The bonus, which parliament could scrap in a vote next Tuesday, was introduced in 2012 to reward those receiving welfare but willing to take on a job and keep it.
It was also meant as a kind of a social corrective, given that back then the welfare allowance amounted to only EUR 230 a month, while it now stands at EUR 402.
Eligible for the bonus are persons who are either employed, self-employed, or included in any of the programmes of an active employment policy or employment rehabilitation. However, their monthly income must not exceed the welfare census.
In 2014, the right to the bonus was expanded to household assistants, persons eligible for partial compensation for the loss of income and volunteers.
The amount of the bonus depends on the amount of work a person does, and ranges from EUR 50 to EUR 200 a month.
When the bonus was introduced, less than 1,000 people were eligible for it, while after the 2014 amendments the number rose significantly.
This August, a total of 5,412 employees, 448 self-employed, 3,400 volunteers, 32 household assistants, 11 persons who lost income, and some 500 persons included in employment rehabilitation programmes were receiving the bonus or 9,803 of the 9,964 people eligible for it.
The Labour Ministry has no figures on other persons eligible for the bonus.
By scrapping the bonus, the state would save at least EUR 16.1 million a year, but the ministry stresses that savings are not the motive behind the move.
The ministry would save the most because of lower welfare, the bonus being a part of it, and because the census for welfare will also rise in line with the changes discussed in parliament.
If the legislative changes are passed, 18,975 people will see their welfare cut, while 4,149 people will be left without it altogether.
After losing the right to welfare, a person will no longer be eligible for partial compensation for health services. It is not clear yet how much savings this will bring, because this depends on the actual costs of health services.
Municipalities are counting on EUR 270,000 in annual savings, because some of the people who will lose the right to welfare will no longer be eligible for compensation for obligatory health insurance covered by municipalities. According to the ministry, there will be some 669 such cases.
According to the ministry's calculations, a four-member family with two children in the kindergarten (and no other assets), where one parent is receiving minimum wage and the other is unemployed, is receiving EUR 667 from the state. Without the bonus, it would receive EUR 462. If the children attended high school, the family would receive EUR 831 or EUR 657 without the bonus.
Under the legislative changes, such families will see their kindergarten subsidies rise slightly and later on the children will receive slightly higher state scholarships.
A single person without assets, who is involved in some voluntary work, currently receives EUR 507 in welfare. Without the bonus, this will amount to EUR 402.
The Labour Ministry says that the bonus discourages the unemployed (especially those doing volunteer work) from getting a proper job, since the welfare together with the bonus amount to EUR 886.63 a month, which is very close to the minimum wage.
Such persons are rejecting and avoiding inclusion in active employment policy programmes, employment rehabilitation programmes and other supportive programmes for fear of losing the bonus, according to the head of the Ljubljana Social Work Centre, Anja Osojnik.
She said family members working part-time were also not interested in getting a full time job for the same reason.
In contrast, Peter Tomažič, the head of charity Slovenska Karitas, where 250 of its 11,000 volunteers receive the bonus, argues against the abolition of the bonus. "Our experience show this is one of the best programmes for social inclusion in recent years. For many people, the bonus is the reason to get up in the morning," he said.
Rather than scrapping the bonus, he proposes better oversight to prevent abuses.
NGOs in particular have been campaigning for the preservation of the bonus, with a strong backing of the media.
The National Assembly is discussing the amendments scraping the bonus today, and is expected to vote on them next Tuesday.