The social gap is opening dangerously in the Czech Republic. While society is getting richer, we are seeing more poor and homeless people because there is no affordable housing for them. The subsistence level is likely to be increased this year after eight years. How do people who have run into trouble find their way back? Caritas presents an analysis of the situation of poor families and individuals, elderly and homeless people, and proposes a series of measures without which the lives of poor people will not improve.
In the minds of the people, the Czech Republic is a relatively egalitarian state with open stratification system and guaranteed access to education and health care for everyone. But, owing to people living in what is known as social bubbles, only their immediate surroundings or those who seek to help them are aware of the situation of poor and vulnerable people at risk. That is why there are a number of legends and populist narratives about "unadaptable folk" and parasites. But the facts are harsh: few people succeed in finding a way out of poverty.
There are several reasons for this. In addition to the "heredity" of poverty to which we have drawn attention in recent years, the path from social misery is fraught with formidable barriers. They will not get to help that should allow people to get out of poverty because of their poverty. Poverty is therefore an important obstacle to the exercise of guaranteed social rights.
This is probably the most serious of the findings of the Caritas CARES report drawn up by Caritas Czech Republic together with its partner organisation Caritas Europa. Other serious problems in the fight against poverty in the Czech Republic include the availability of housing, the availability of pre-school care facilities for vulnerable groups (especially mothers with children), employment assistance for these population groups, and the availability of social and health services. The situation is not aided even by the unified approach of the state apparatus to clients in need (especially at job centres). Differences are increasing between both social groups and regions. There have also been significant changes in the composition of the population: the number of working-age people is decreasing compared with children and pensioners, i.e. care-dependent individuals.
"The mission of our organization is specifically to help people who find themselves in a difficult situation, indiscriminately. Our work also includes the fight for a fairer system that excludes no one and enables people on the margins to integrate into society. I am proud to be able to turn our many years of practical experience into practical recommendations that change the situation of poor and vulnerable people for the better," says Lukáš Curylo, Director of Caritas Czech Republic.
Caritas is dedicated not only to helping those in need through the registered social and health services, but also in an analysis of the state of society in an effort to improve the situation. "The aim of our report was to find out how the service system works, where its weaknesses lie and how it can be corrected," says Iva Kuchyňková, social analyst of Caritas Czech Republic. The Caritas CARES 2019 report combines two unique approaches: Caritas Czech Republic itself provides social services, but can also draw on its experience.
Housing is the bottom line
One of the biggest problems in the Czech Republic is, according to the long-term experience of charity experts, the fact that housing affordability has deteriorated in recent years. Housing is becoming overpriced today for young people, the elderly and employees receiving lower wages; poor families have virtually no chance of getting any. The supply of adequate housing is limited and the required deposit of several monthly rents is an insurmountable barrier. Romany people and foreigners, in turn, encounter prejudice and discrimination because of origin. The loss of permanent housing often means, above all, for the socially excluded, a disruption of family life and ending up down and out.
When people don't get adequate housing, they have no choice but to reach for what is known as substandard. As the name suggests, it is not possible to live a normal life in this: hostels with shared bathrooms, a multi-member family inhabiting a single room, intermittent water and energy supplies, insects. This is what trading in poverty looks like, with the poorest being the victims. And if housing benefits are cut as part of the fight against this phenomenon, it will harm people in need, since the solution for most of them is not to find standard housing, but to move to another hostel outside the benefits zone. Caritas also offers first aid in this area with its shelters, but our capacities are far from sufficient. In addition, shelters can only provide assistance for a transitional period, not usually more than one year.
If vulnerable families have to move from place to place all the time, this leaves its mark on the children. They do not create social ties, and if they move during the school year, for example, there is no room for them in kindergarten. While the availability of pre-school care has improved in recent years, the capacity of the facilities has increased and children over 3 years of age have a guaranteed place in kindergarten the last year, but poor families have a problem with secondary financial expenses related to attendance of pre-school facilities, such as paying for lunches. As we pointed out two years ago, it is here that hereditary poverty starts: another starting line for children at the beginning of the educational process. Situations where children do not actually get into kindergarten affect not only people who often move home, but also ethnic minorities and single mothers.
The situation in the housing market for homeless people is almost unsolvable. They are thus dependent on the help of shelters, yet many of them could benefit from ordinary housing. The state and taxpayers do not benefit from the growing scarcity of adequate housing.
Hospitals yes, follow-up care with limited availability
As far as health services are concerned, they are readily available for socially weaker populations in acute cases, but this cannot be said of follow-up care or rehabilitation. There is a significant difference between big cities and the countryside: for poor people, commuting to see specialists can mean an outlay they cannot afford. Also, the decreasing number of general practitioners in the regions often means the impossibility of visiting a specialist. To do this, an order slip is required which one cannot get without registration with a general practitioner.
Care is a serious problem on the borderline between social and health services, because the needs of those in need of both types of services, such as long-term patients in home care, are not taken into account. For example, for the elderly, the procedures that would allow them to stay at home are not available on prescription. And a special chapter, in which Caritas Czech Republic specialises as part of legal counselling is devoted to services for the homeless. Field health care is not available for homeless people in the Czech Republic – they will only get help when their lives are endangered. This complicates efforts to help these people: under current legislation, only healthy individuals are admitted to sheltered facilities, so a homeless person has nowhere to recover after being discharged from hospital (for example, after surgery or pneumonia).
Instead of help, humiliation
It follows from the experience of our clients how difficult and sometimes humiliating it is for them to visit job centres if they seek advice on their own, unaccompanied by a social worker. On the one hand, the system of rules is constantly changing, on the other hand, it is not everywhere that officials will explain to a client exactly what they want of them, or they will not always give them understandable information or help to fill out complicated forms. Thanks to the presence of an escort, the initial unhelpful approach of the relevant officer to the applicant is often completely changed. Instead of aid and support from the state apparatus, which should motivate people to get out of poverty and reduce their dependence on the state and its benefits, clients have repeatedly documented the unfriendliness of officials and a standardised approach.
What measures are we proposing
Our analysis concluded with the following measures, which are further developed in the Caritas CARES report:
- Improve public employment policy
- Improve the availability and capacity of decent housing for vulnerable groups of citizens.
- Improve the accessibility and capacity of health services, especially for socially excluded and accessible social care services for homeless people.
- Continue to increase the availability of childcare facilities, especially for vulnerable families.
- Improve the sufficiency and accessibility of minimum income.
- Ratify the revised European Social Charter.
Caritas CARES 2019 Report
The above findings (and not only those) are set out in the just submitted "Poverty Report" Caritas CARES 2019. It was created on the basis of a questionnaire survey within the Caritas Czech Republic network. A total of 16 European countries produced a similar report on the availability of services from the point of view of the poorest countries. The report comprises an analysis of physical availability, accessibility, affordability, and the level of social and other public services for the poor and socially excluded. "This report, based on the findings of Caritas organisations across Europe, calls for coordinated and consistent activities of the European Union and its members, which will improve the availability of services for the poorest people. It is essential for people to be familiar with their social rights and to know how to claim them," said Maria Nyman, Secretary-General of Caritas Europa.
What Caritas is already doing to resolve these problems
Caritas Czech Republic provides health and social services to almost 150,000 people a year across the Czech Republic. In addition to debt counselling and social activation services for families with children, we operate, for example, shelters for mothers with children in distress, social services for homeless men and women, and low-threshold centres for children and young people.
In the social sphere, Caritas is active in trailblazing and seeking new opportunities. It recently launched two innovative projects: Community work in ‘Settlement of Peace’ in Ostrava focuses on supporting and activating the community in a socially excluded location. At the moment, the project is being supported by 28 long-term active members, mostly leaders of the local community. In one way and another, 376 people from the community were involved in the project activities; the plan is to extend the total number of project participants to 500. The second project is the Brno Diocesan Charity Rescue Network, aimed at helping people whose needs are not covered by current aid systems. The project gives them access to social, health and other services.
Creation and methodology of the report
The Caritas CARES 2019 report was drafted in cooperation with Caritas Europa. The individual national reports are the basis for a joint European report to be presented to the European Commission in March. The Czech report was prepared, in cooperation with Peter Verhaeghe of Caritas Europa, by an analyst and coordinator for social area Iva Kuchyňková, and analyst Martina Veverková.
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About Caritas Czech Republic
Caritas Czech Republic helps families, men, women and children, regardless of their age, faith or country of origin. Across the country, Caritas Czech Republic operates 69 counselling services, 756 social care and social care prevention services, 84 health services, 61 hospice services and 352 services of a different type. In the Czech Republic, Caritas provides assistance to almost 150,000 people in all these social and health service categories.