Illés Szurovecz: Hungary’s poor worse off after March “reforms”

The following article by Illés Szurovecz of Habitat for Humanity originally appeared in The Budapest BeaconIt is reprinted here with the permission of The Budapest Beacon.

Habitat

Hungary’s four million poor are considerably worse off since the national government transferred certain social welfare programs to local governments in March 2015. In many cases it does not matter how poor someone is, if they don’t tend their garden or properly clean their toilet, they receive no support for the maintenance of their household.

According to a recent study prepared by Habitat for Humanity, reforms to Hungary’s social welfare system introduced in March 2015 have primarily affected large and poor families. The point of the change was that a number of social supports previously administered by the national government and funded in the national budget were eliminated, and the decision whether to continue them, and in what form, was entrusted to local governments. Habitat for Humanity examined 31 settlements to determine the extent to which poor families have access to household supports and debt management subsidies. It appears that settlements in general have tightened their belts to the detriment of Hungary’s poorest.

In Habitat’s opinion, since 3200 settlements were given a free hand, Hungary became a country with 3200 different household support policies. Prior to March the national government reduced subsidies for household maintenance. In 2007 the government distributed HUF 130 billion (USD 650 million) of household support to poor families. By 2012 this had decreased to HUF 20 billion (USD 90 million).

Larger households worse off

Previously, some 450,000 poor households received monthly support of HUF 3,870 (USD 14) for use primarily towards paying public utility bills. The amount decreased over the years but was still an important supplemental income for poor families.

In March local governments were given the option of discontinuing this altogether. Of 31 settlements chosen at random by Habitat to examine, three had completely done away with this kind of support—Gávavencsellő, Hódmezővásárhely, and Vámosatya.

In general what Habitat experienced was that, while local governments tried to continue the earlier supports, the conditions were made far more strict. In twelve settlements the per capita income limit for qualifying for household support payments was set at between HUF 40,000 (USD 143) and 70,000 (USD 250). True, poor families living in those settlements previously received relatively small amounts, HUF 2,500 (USD 9) on average.

A number of local governments do not differentiate between different income groups and provide the same support to everyone regardless of whether their income is near the top or approaches zero. Where they differentiate, those earning less than HUF 30,000 (USD 107) a month, in other words the poorest, often receive less support than prior to the March reforms, whereas those earning HUF 40,000-60,000 (USD 143-214) are doing better.

Another important change is that, whereas previously the supports benefitted mostly large families, local governments often do not differentiate among different-sized households, meaning that often a family of eight receives the same amount as a single-member household.

The study cites the example of Cikó in Tolna county where every household that qualifies for a subsidy receives HUF 3,000 (USD 11). This is one-third the amount a four-person family living on HUF 47,000 (USD 280) a month received before March. On the other hand, single-family households earning HUF 60,000-70,000 (USD 215-250) a month receive HUF 500 (USD 1.8) more.

When presenting Habitat‘s findings, Eszter Somogyi of City Research Ltd. (Városkutatás Kft.) said the change was surprising and speculated that it was politically motivated by the desire to win the votes of pensioners.

In some settlements limits are placed on what the support can be used for. In the northern Hungarian cities of Ózd and Miskolc, and in the south-eastern city of Mezőtúr, regulations favor utility companies owned by the local government. In this way, the entire support (capped at HUF 2,000/USD 7) goes to garbage removal. Miskolc only supports the cost of heating between October and March. In Ózd the money may only be used to pay for heating or the cost of renting a flat from the local government.

In many settlements one of the conditions for receiving the support is that the household spend 30 percent of its income on home maintenance and improvement. Habitat believes such a condition is not a bad idea but that considering the average ratio in Hungary is around 25 percent, a lot of impoverished households end up being disqualified.

Are you poor? Let’s see your toilet and your garden!

One of the “sticks” of the new system according to Habitat is that subjective decisions play a much greater role in determining who receives supports and who does not. The government primarily justified the changes to Hungary’s social welfare system on the grounds that settlements can better decide locally who is really needy. However, it appears that many municipalities abuse this and stipulate conditions that violate people’s rights.

Of the 31 local governments examined, six did not prescribe any conditions, with the notary, mayor, and the local authorities determining who receives how much support. More often the support is conditioned on “plot orderliness,” a practice previously condemned by Hungary’s ombudsman for human rights. In the Szabolcs county settlement of Ibrány, only those qualify for household support who install a chip in their dog, weed their garden, and clean the ditches in front of their houses. In Somogy county’s Bőszénfa, keeping a garden is also a condition. In Miskolc they also pay attention to the cleanliness of one’s toilet. Eszter Somogyi believes one of the most astonishing conditions can be found in Miskolc and Ózd, where households deemed to be “overcrowded” are disqualified from receiving any household support.

Habitat believes this makes the poor vulnerable and conditions the support on one’s relationship with the local mayor. Habitat is concerned that local governments will use subjective conditions to drive poor families away.

Less money to go around

Prior to March the so-called household debt management service was provided to around 10,000 people annually. It was intended to help those who had fallen into arrears with their public utility bills, or whose utilities had been disconnected. In addition to the financial support, individuals were given advice on how to manage their debts. Although settlements with populations under 40,000 were not required to provide this, many smaller cities made it available.

Out of 31 settlements, only five offer this service since March. In Miskolc (Hungary’s third-largest city) and Hódmezővásárhely the service was discontinued in March. Where it remained, they raised the income cutoff level and decreased the amount of the support so that now the poorest have to compete with the lower middle-classes for limited resources. Habitat believes that this makes it even more difficult for impoverished households to pay off their debts.

Local governments are allowed to provide other supports, such as social firewood, rent supports, or extraordinary heating supports. However, out of 31 settlements, only eleven offered any of these supports.

Who is responsible for this?

It appears that, on the whole, Hungary’s poorest were adversely affected by the March changes to the country’s social welfare system. The question is whether this is primarily the responsibility of the national government or municipal governments.

Undersecretary for social affairs Károly Czibere said earlier that a HUF 30 billion (USD 107 million) “compensation fund” was being set up to which 90 percent of settlements would have access in order to ensure that nobody is worse off. The settlements, however, sense that their financial sources are increasingly limited. One city notary told abcug.hu several weeks ago that they have to decrease development expenditures in order to fund social welfare payments.

The author of the study, Bence Kováts, says that, for the time being, it is difficult to decide who is right because the 2014 social welfare data has not yet been released, and for this reason they cannot determine whether the HUF 30 billion compensation fund is sufficient. Kováts says that probably there are many settlements where the old supports remain but on a reduced level, not out of contempt for the poor but owing to a lack of resources and technical expertise, primarily in the case of the smaller settlements.

Habitat for Humanity believes the study for the most part faithfully reflects the general tendencies and warns that the situation of Hungary’s poor will considerably worsen if Prime Minister Viktor Orbán makes good on his promise to do away with social welfare altogether by 2018.

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Latefor
Guest

Eva said: “One of the “sticks” of the new system according to Habitat is that subjective decisions play a much greater role in determining who receives supports and who does not. The government primarily justified the changes to Hungary’s social welfare system on the grounds that settlements can better decide locally who is really needy. However, it appears that many municipalities abuse this and stipulate conditions that violate people’s rights.”

I have great respect for the local governments for putting conditions on financial support.
How dare they EDUCATE the certain “vulnerable group” to “clean your toilet, remove your rubbish and attend to your garden”?
How dare they put such unfair demand on them?
Before we talk about human rights, we’d first have to look at the very basics, like what it takes to be a human being. Also, I don’t believe that any “vulnerable groups” should be allowed to jeopardise the health and the rights of other citizens by spreading disease due to lack of hygiene.

Webber
Guest

The sticks are often used to ensure people vote for, or at least don’t express opposition to Fidesz. Say you don’t care for the ruling party in public, watch your benefits cut (the reason given will be something else).
We are all human beings, unconditionally.

Member

So you would have no problem people going into your house and check your toilet? Why don’t we also check if you wash your hands after you use the bathroom? I have seen many people in public washrooms who leave w/o washing their hands. They should not be allowed on public transportation. Maybe dome germ scanners before we enter the subway.. great idea.

I think from now Eva should implement a policy that in order to avoid hypocrisy those who agree with the full measures implemented by some Hungarian municipalities should obtain a mental health certificate from their doctors before post here. I truly want to make sure that the mental health of those who are reading here will not be compromised by those who are posting here and their point of view under duress.

Webber
Guest

🙂

exTor
Guest

Your quirky English had me confused at first, Some1. A second readthrough cleared the picture for me. Nice.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Member

My English is awful when I am typing on impulse…. and otherwise.

spectator
Guest
“I have great respect for the local governments for putting conditions on financial support. How dare they EDUCATE the certain “vulnerable group” to “clean your toilet, remove your rubbish and attend to your garden”? How dare they put such unfair demand on them? Latefor, I guess you have used the wrong term here. You see, the situation what you referring at just as far from ‘education’ as anything could get. This is the procedure to “break in” someone into some kind of discipline what the receiver never really learned through “EDUCATION”! The metode may have used to housetrain pets, but certainly not a contemporary form used by civilised people to spread information – but then again the word “EDUCATION” too may have acquired a new meaning in Orbanistan, not only ‘democracy’, ‘liberalism’ and countless more… However, it certainly not the civilised way to treat a fellow human being, not even by their government or their local vassals! Anyway, a little, but well deserved help: educate /ˈɛʤəˌkeɪt/ verb educates; educated; educating Learner’s definition of EDUCATE 1 to teach (someone) especially in a school, college, or university [+ object] Parents trust schools to educate their children. — often used as (be) educated… Read more »
Webber
Guest
This is for Latefor, and all those who might agree with her – people whose ideas were answered in the following manner in 1729: “It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country… I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have… Read more »
Guest

And after that great Swiftian ‘solution’ to a vexing problem I’ll add that if JS set his sights on a Central European country in our modern age he’d probably have no compunction of categorizing one particular country there as being run by a sort of an intellectually challenged population of ‘Yahoos’. Swift didn’t see them as the sharpest tools in the shed.

With Swift his rancor was to the English. With Hungary today, it looks as if it’s their own government which puts some of its population under pressure and duress.

Latefor
Guest

Some1 & Webber –

How about getting off your high horses. And for once in your privileged life try to look at issues/problems as they really are, instead of approaching it in your usual twisted, provocative manner. It must be an uplifting feeling for you to see certain things in a way what seems stomach turning to the average person.
As far as your insulting comments are concerned, I don’t usually get affected by academic arrogance. In my simple world, usually common sense prevails!

Guest

So you consider yourself an “average person”?
One of those who voted overwhelmingly for Orbán and adore him?

Member

Can you quote my insulting comment? It insults you if someone would check your toilet but you have no problem that someone would check the poor people’s toilet? Are you kidding me? you try to lecture me about insults from your hypocritical perspective? Arrogance? Quote my arrogance. High horses? You know nothing about me, only that I stand up for equal rights to all, can you say the same? I do not think so. In the past I stood up for you when needed on this board, and I plan to do the same if the time comes, but it is you now who should “get off your high horse”. Why do you have a problem with Webber? S/he simply quoted a very reputable writer, Jonathan Swift? Did s/he hit to close to home? Do not blame the mirror for imperfections.

exTor
Guest
Downloading costs to municipalities is something that has been done in other jurisdictions. The conservative Ontario governments of Mike Harris [1995–2002] downloaded many costs onto cities with a view to lessening its own financial obligations. Along the way, many cities (such as Toronto, where I used to live) were forced to amalgamate into larger regions. Cities, to meet their newfound obligations, cut back on certain expenditures. The rationale for Viktor Orbán is also to lessen his government’s own expenditures. Micromanaging social-welfare costs can be done more stringently at the local [municipal] level. Since Fidesz is strong in most municipalities, it wont be difficult to get the Fidesz mayors to come onside and do the bidding of Viktor Orbán. The added benefit to the national government is that voters (many of whom will be Roma) can be ‘bought’ through social-welfare payments. Social-welfare costs are borne of the realization by the capitalist state that capitalism has its inherent shortcomings, namely (amongst other things) a lack of full employment. In order to forestall social unrest, the underclass must be bought off [ie: social welfare]. Every capitalist country does this. Hungary sounds like it wants to kick the underclass out onto the street, maybe… Read more »
Hajós
Guest
Whatever social policies the government introduced in rural regions, whether it’s the public labour (közmunka), new rules on welfare, rules in elementary schools etc. must strictly be seen from a disciplinary point of view. The government doesn’t care about the social issues at all, it has no strategy about what to do with poor, rural people, especially the roma. It want to protect and seen protecting the interest of white middle class people (ie. people who think of themselves as orderly middle class people, they may be poor of course in reality). So what the government does is it caters to its voters, the angry white rural folks who might think about voting for Jobbik and who are definitely fed up with the roma, who – in the eyes of the whites – continue to refer to their rights but who – it seems to many – will often lead annoying, uncivil, disruptive lifestyles which also reproduces that deprivation and which cannot be caught by criminal law (e.g. if a ten year old brown-skinned kid regularly insults elderly ladies by calling them whores, then what do you do? Of course nothing, you can’t do a thing legally, but you will… Read more »
Hajós
Guest

“taming” of course.

exTor
Guest
In the United States, black voters constitute a sizable proportion of the electorate. They tend to vote Democrat. The Roma in Hungary are large in number, however percentagewise they are below the US blacks. That NWS, Viktor Orbán may need the Roma vote in 2018, given the fact that Fidesz is slipping in popularity. His downloading action may, to some extent, be predicated on that reality Anybody know how the Roma voted in 2014? Downloading social-welfare payments and maintenance to the local level will enable Fidesz to either firm up its existing relationship with the rural poor, or it can create new relationships with those rural poor who are not already under the thrall of Fidesz. You have outlined well the Roma reality in an illiberal democracy, Hajós. Let me link to an incident anecdoted to me by my ex, who lives in Csepel, but teaches in District XX. She is a Fidesznik and she is antiRoma. While standing at a busstop near her school, a very young Roma kid tried to snatch her purse, which she was able to hang on to. I’m not sure whether this created or confirmed her antiRoma sentiment. Regardless, my ex knows that Roma… Read more »
Member
You seem to be forgetting about the times before 1989 when the Roma were “tamed”, integrated and worked and lived as many “white” Hungarians. The problem is they have always been poor, always had a disadvantage in society, back then there wasn’t as big a problem because people couldn’t act on their prejudices. People with racism taught in their home couldn’t wait to show their true colors. I find it totally and utterly appalling that no one ever mentions that the Roma were fully integrated into society all over the Soviet block. One thing I do hear constantly is that it is impossible to integrate them. All it takes is respect for their culture and give them WORK!!! When given opportunity, they know what is good for life and family too. The entire problem that has come from Roma since 1989 is the result of “white” Hungarians thinking they don’t have to tolerate them, they can say and do what they want because there is now “freedom of speech”, disgusting!!! If politicians and police don’t get the racism under control and start prosecuting those who think they can act however they want with no consequence because it is a Gypsy… Read more »
Guest

It seems to me that after more than 25 years of Capitalism the Hungarian politicians still have no idea how to solve the problem of the poor and uneducated.
I know it would be a slow process – but they should at least get started right now, actually they should have started directly after the end of the “Communist” system when hundreds of thousands were without work …

exTor
Guest

Latefor, you accuse Some1 and Webber of being on their “high horses”. Something is severely amiss here. I think that you’re having a hard time connecting with logic this day.

Let’s be clear about this. The transfer of social-welfare payments to the municipalities is not about inducing good hygiene in those elements of the population that the state deems lacking. The downloading is about saving money for the state, in the first instance.

At the lower level, where the decisions about allocations will be made, things will be different. That the withholding of payments will be used as a cudgel to beat down elements deemed troublesome has already been seen.

The likelihood of diseases emanating from messy Roma households at the edges of towns is remote, Latefor. There’s a greater likelihood of disease transmission by unclean water, which may become a problem if localities have to cut back on services to maintain social-welfare payments.

I’m pleased to see that your shipment of irony supplements has arrived, Latefor. Be careful riding high horses. They can be skittish.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Latefor
Guest

exTor – “Be careful riding high horses. They can be skittish. MAGYARKOZÓ”

Tell me about it! 🙂

exTor
Guest

No personal experience with high horses of the skittish variety, Melanie. Let’s just say that I have seen a few incidents better left unremembered.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Latefor
Guest

Wolfie,
I guess the Hungarians are the victims of the well-known “shock therapy”, which is the reason why hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs in the first place! They are the first direct sufferers of Globalization.

Today, foreign companies are badly needed in order to create employment. According to Orban, the workforce can be trained to accommodate them.

Answering your previous question: Yes, I do consider myself an average person.

Guest

I just wrote this on pol.hu as a response to a certified lunatic:
http://www.politics.hu/20150807/industrial-output-growing-due-to-automotive-sector/

And who does the Fidesz mafia care about? Only about their money …

You’re proving my point actually.
The Hungarian industry (just like the whole Eastern block) was in an extremely shitty state, not competitive at all, ten years (or more) behind in technology …
And most important: It was an ecological disaster! With no concerns regarding the environment – or the health of the workers and the people. Just read up on the poisonous gold, uranium or aluminium production …
The car and bus industry eg was a real joke – look up Trabant or Ikarus.

PS:
My name is Wolfi or Wolf (a typical German name) not Wolfe (English) or Wolfie – that would be the Jewish version …
Many Brits and Americans made that mistake – so I’m the proud owner of a lot of Science Fiction books signed by the authors to Wolfe or Wolfie …

Guest
Re: “Hungary sounds like it wants to kick the underclass out onto the street, maybe even literally. Cant imagine what will come after if social welfare is completely eliminated by 2018. Good reason for many not to vote for VO” I’d say plenty of scenarios perhaps along the lines of something I came across in in the NY Times on Swedish life with the underclass where Roma are now being attacked in the streets. Sweden’s tolerance to various groups have apparently reached their tolerance. Not sure such overt attacks are being done on the streets of Budapest or Miskolc or Debrecen but if the relationship of government to the underclass continues Hungary’s streets will have to be an awful site. The homeless, the poor, migrants etc will simply be a stimuli for more and more violence by people looking for trouble. On that I give you NYC in the decrepit ’70’s where crime, violence and poverty was the calling card of the great city. It was a nasty time in the concrete canyons. It’s tough to see how the right is dealing with the situation. They ostensibly have a ‘strategy’ against poverty. But at bottom it is reflexive and corrosive… Read more »
spectator
Guest

“…Swedish life with the underclass where Roma are now being attacked in the streets.”

I guess te article refers to the so called “EU migrants”- mostly Roma from the former Eastern block countries, predominantly from Romania – who living in cars, caravans or other temporary shelters and working as beggars, even organised by shady characters, not unlike pimps.
Not unlike the political reaction of the extreme right either, just like their Hungarian idols they launched a billboard campaign against the panhandlers and their government who “unable” to handle the situation. However, the outcome somehow different from the Hungarian, in both ways:

Further reading in English:

http://www.thelocal.se/20150805/1000-join-demo-against-sds-anti-begging-campaign
http://www.thelocal.se/20150808/two-migrants-injured-in-camping-site-attack

I recommend to check the referring links from the pages too!

wpDiscuz