Rising cost of services
By Kirill Yevstigneev
The socio-demographic situation in the country has revealed a number of problems. In particular, as life expectancy rises, the number of elderly people grows. Meanwhile, 508,000 disabled people currently reside in Belarus, in addition to 580,000 elderly people who rely on their own company. The network of state social institutions needs to be extended (requiring additional budgetary funds) but non-state organisations and entrepreneurs can also do their part to improve delivery of social services.
Amendments to some laws in this sphere have been adopted during their first reading at the National Assembly’s House of Representatives. Currently, the state dominates delivery of social services, which isn’t ideal for a range of reasons. Competition tends to improve quality. “The new draft law aims to create a competitive environment in the sphere of social services — similar to the market for manufactures,” notes Belarus’ Minister for Labour and Social Protection, Marianna Shchetkina.
Local authorities will act as customers of social services while local budgets for these purposes will be distributed via purchases of social services and support of non-state commercial organisations in the form of subsidies. According to the Minister, this should allow us to more promptly solve social problems, while expanding the range of services and enhancing their quality. Moreover, provision by non-state organisations and volunteers should save money by reducing the number of people sent to state institutions.
The draft law defines a ‘difficult life situation’ (previously categorised as serious disease or other similar circumstances, this has now been supplemented to include those on low incomes). Ms. Shchetkina notes that, in the first three months of this year alone, 66,000 people received one-off material assistance.
The draft law regulates the terms and procedure of delivery of social services, as well as reasons for refusal. Meanwhile, social workers often have to deal with those who are dependent on alcohol, which can lead to them facing aggressive situations.
Deputy Yelena Dikovitskaya tells us that the new system should promote a market of social services via state-private partnership. Moreover, foreign investments may be attracted into the social sphere: some public organisations have foreign grants for this purpose.
A similar mechanism is already operational in Russia and Kazakhstan, with Belarus now dynamically developing, attracting representatives of civil society into the market of social services, to raise efficiency.