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Cyprus

Welfare overhaul as GMI approved

Veteran members of PEO trade union protesting against the GMI vote outside the House of Representatives

By Stefanos Evripidou

PARLIAMENT yesterday passed a bill overhauling the current welfare system and replacing it with a new troika-inspired one, with the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) at its forefront.

The bill setting out the rules for implementation of the GMI was passed with 34 votes in favour, from DISY, DIKO, EDEK, EVROKO and independent Famagusta MP Zacharias Koulias, and 20 abstentions from AKEL and the Citizens’ Alliance.

All amendments tabled in the plenum were rejected bar one relating to when housing loan instalments will be taken into consideration.

Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou welcomed the passage of the GMI bill, noting that from Monday, technocrats will get to work on the procedures necessary to ensure its implementation.

“It is very important for us because we can start taking all necessary steps to immediately implement it and be in a position to help as many people as we can,” she said.

Prior to the bill’s enactment, Emilianidou tabled a ministry study last week at the House Labour Committee which concluded that GMI will incorporate an additional 10,000 low-income earners and a further 10,000 long-term unemployed. The latter will be the beneficiaries of over 65 per cent of the additional cost to the GMI budget, she said.

The bill will be published in the Official Gazette today, after which the applications will be printed, software system completed, and the forms sent out to all interested parties to submit their application.

The aim is for state services to be ready to distribute the first GMI in September.

A registry will be created to record all government handouts and social welfare benefits so that all state aid is monitored and the net worth of each recipient is recorded centrally.

Last week, Emiliniadou had argued that upon implementation of the GMI the poverty index should fall by 35 per cent.

Head of the House Labour Committee, AKEL’s Andreas Fakontis, argued that the GMI provides the minimum needed for survival, €480 a month, rather than a sum that allows dignified living, as the government had claimed.

He argued that as a result, the 2014 welfare budget will see a “deep haircut” of €127m.

The state needs an additional €25m this year and €50m in 2015 to cover the extra cost of implementing the GMI.

Fakontis was worried that this would come from further cuts elsewhere or new taxes.

Also, in practice, GMI will result in reduced benefits for disabled people and low-income pensioners, he argued.

In contrast, DIKO’s Athina Kyriakidou said the bill does not exclude any group of citizens from the rights they have already earned. It does not affect student grants or benefits for the disabled, single parents and low-income pensioners, she said.

DISY’s Nicos Nouris said that Fakontis was selectively looking at cuts, instead of looking at the bigger picture, which was that a new social policy was being built that is better targeted, with stricter criteria.

Yesterday morning pensioners protested outside parliament against the GMI scheme. The protest was organised by AKEL-affiliated trade union PEO. The placards read: “Dignified living and not just survival.”



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