The number of socially vulnerable individuals; that is, people who are recipients of subsistence assistance, decreased by 14,307 (5,479 families) in the past two months. In October, some 655,734 individuals (176,041 families) received the subsistence minimum which is 17.6% of the total population. In the previous period from January 2022 to August 2022, the number of socially vulnerable people in the country was rising each month and reached a historic high. FactCheck offers an overview of those factors which precipitated the changes in the number of socially vulnerable people.
Beneficiaries of the state programme for social assistance (subsistence minimum) are families living below the poverty line whom the government provides with monetary and other type of aid. Generally, the database of socially vulnerable people is being constantly updated and the number of cash social assistance recipients either decreases or increases. The status of socially vulnerable families is constantly verified given the demographic or the income changes of a family whilst there is a planned inspection of socially vulnerable families once every four years. In addition, the number of socially vulnerable people is affected by changes in the methodology of assessment of the socio-economic situation of socially vulnerable families or/and by expansion of the programme.
In 2020-2022 amid the pandemic, the number of socially vulnerable people in the country reached a record high. According to the data of the Social Service Agency, in January 2020 some 432,218 individuals (120,218 families) received subsistence minimum whilst in August 2022 that number was 670,041 (181,520 families).
Graph 1: Number of Subsistence Minimum Recipients in 2020-2022
Source: Social Service Agency
The major factor that precipitated the growth in the number of socially vulnerable people is the increased number of applications from people requesting to be included in programme. Amid the pandemic, there was a substantial rise in the number of families and citizens who requested minimal cash benefits from the government just to sustain themselves. The growth of subsistence assistance recipients is also directly linked with the government’s policy. In particular, a moratorium was announced amid the pandemic vis-à-vis the verification of the socio-economic conditions of socially vulnerable families. This means that none of these families has had their assistance revoked since 2020. In addition, new beneficiaries were added to the programme – those who applied with the request to have social assistance and were granted with the status of socially vulnerable. Furthermore, since July 2021 the circle of children beneficiaries has also been expanded which affected the growth in the number of programme beneficiaries to a certain extent.
The aforementioned moratorium on the verification of the socio-economic situation of socially vulnerable families ended on 1 May 2022 and the verification of families gradually resumed. This should logically be followed by a decrease in the number of social assistance recipients, although the trend of growth in the numbers of socially vulnerable people continued in the following months (May-August) as well. The decrease in the number of subsistence assistance recipients in September-October was perhaps precipitated by ending the moratorium and the robust verification of beneficiary families. Of note is that during the verification process, assistance is either revoked or temporarily suspended which results in a decrease in the number of subsistence assistance recipients. FactCheck took interest in the explanation of the Social Service Agency on the matters that contributed to the decrease in the number of socially vulnerable people in the previous two months. However, the Social Service Agency declined to comment on this issue.
The fact that there is a growing number of applications from the population with the request to collect social assistance indicates that the social situation in the country remains difficult. The growth or decrease in the number of assistance recipients, however, often depends on the “goodwill” of the government or the robust nature of the verification process of assistance recipient families.