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Our View: Fast-track welfare bill to stumble in parliament

Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou

THE COUNCIL of Ministers yesterday approved a bill that would radically reform the state welfare system, expanding the number of people eligible for state aid.

The government hopes that the legislature will approve the bill today so that it would come into force on July 1, as had been planned, but this is looking increasingly unlikely, as it would give no time to the parties to study the bill.

This is a complex bill that deserves to be studied by deputies and the government is being very unrealistic in expecting its immediate approval by the House. It could argue that labour minister Zeta Emilianidou had briefed the ‘social partners’ – union bosses and employers’ representatives – about its provisions and secured their consent, but it is too important a bill to be passed without being carefully read by deputies; 24 hours is not enough time.

Once the 70-page bill is read by the parties, objections and reservations are certain to be expressed because, so far, Emilianidou has only been talking about the positive points, such as the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) which is the central issue of the bill. In a nutshell, the new welfare scheme would provide an individual with no income a minimum monthly payment of €480, plus add-ons for spouse and children; it would also pay rent or interest on loans for a primary residence and municipal taxes. Applicants, expected to be in the region of 70,000 would have to go through means-testing before they are approved.

The big question is where would the government find the funds to finance the new welfare system? According to Emilianidou, the additional cost per year would be €50 million. The rest of the money would come from the funds already budgeted for welfare payments that are in the region of a billion euros. In other words there would be a re-distribution of the welfare payments to finance the GMI, which means that existing recipients of state help would lose out. One union boss described the scheme as a case of the poor funding the poorer.

The minister avoided mentioning this part of the scheme, which is certain to spark criticism from opposition parties. However, the reform and rationalisation of the welfare system was long overdue because social and economic conditions have changed drastically in the last few years. Long term unemployment has become a feature of our society that needed to be tackled by the state and this is what the government bill attempts to do. Some welfare recipients will lose out under the new scheme, but many more will benefit and that is what matters.

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