Economy & Politics: Why the poverty line determined by Latvian lawmakers is unconstitutional

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Latvia is undoubtedly not a country for social romanticists. There is no special social assistance system for disability and the elderly. However, those who are not entitled to disability benefits and old-age pensions can, under certain circumstances, receive the basic social security benefit (Valsts sociālā nodrošinājuma pabalsts). A family or individual is only considered to be in need if the average monthly income of each family member in the past three months has been less than EUR 128.06. Social benefits are only given to those who do not have savings, possessions or other support lines. You also have to be registered as unemployed with the State Employment Agency. For people with an employment but a lower income than 64, – EURO per month, there are special regulations, such as housing subsidy or a subsidy for the purchase of food.

The last time personal demand was identified was in 2009, the year of the financial crisis. That was 11 years ago – and the inflation rate in Latvia is not particularly low. The then government of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis had to agree with the IMF on a drastic government cutback policy to deal with the financial crisis. The social needs of the Latvian people did really not play any role at that time and it did also not under later governments when the country was again able to show considerable economic growth. The Ombudsman for Human Rights in Latvia, Juris Jansons, has filed several lawsuits against this practice with the Constitutional Court and was always right, most recently in mid-July 2020.

The constitutional judges ruled that such a low level of need would violate paragraphs 1 and 109 of the Latvian Constitution, which define the Latvian Republic as a democratic constitutional and welfare state. According to paragraph 109, everyone has the right to social security in old age, unemployment and in special cases determined by law. The state must therefore guarantee a decent life for those in need, including housing, clothing, food, education, medical care and participation in social life. These are fundamental rights that apply in all welfare states, also because they are suitable for maintaining social peace and the internal stability of a state.

The constitutional judges ruled that a blanket definition of the social assistance rate without proper justification would contradict the principles of a socially responsible state. The existing provisions would not meet these criteria listed above. The constitutional judges require the legislature to change the practice for determining the poverty line by January 1, 2021. They also demand that the poverty line be reviewed and adjusted in periodic periods. Members of the liberal conservative government parties Jauna Vienotiba (JV) and Par Attistibai/Par! (AP) promptly started a legislative initiative to limit Jansons` term of office.

Image: Economic well-being appears to be more important than social justice in Latvia. Modern office buildings in the Teika district in the Latvian capital Rīga. Recorded in May 2019. Double click on the image to enlarge.

Image: Economic well-being appears to be more important than social justice in Latvia.
Modern office buildings in the Teika district in the Latvian capital Rīga.
Recorded in May 2019.
Double click on the image to enlarge.

 

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