Today the Riigikogu deliberated combating poverty and social exclusion of children and young people as the matter of significant national importance. Reports were by Dagmar Kutsar, Professor of the University of Tartu, Katrin Saks President of the Estonian Union for Child Welfare, and Heljo Pikhof, member of the Social Democratic Party Faction.
Dagmar Kutsar began her report by explaining the meaning of poverty, which is treated in terms of both the society and the individual. “The meaning is the same – the individuals living in the society are deprived of the lifestyle considered normal in that society, and the possibilities to develop it,” explained Kutsar. According to the Professor, a child may be born into a poor family, but when a baby is born, it is rich, full of development potentials. It is the duty of the grownups to take the responsibility for developing these potentials and for guaranteeing that the child is happy in the society. Usually the poverty of a child develops in the context of a household (single parent family, family with many children, chronic illness of a family member, unemployment), but also in the context of wider social environment (economic situation of the country). On the basis of research, Kutsar remarked that various expenses for a child exceed the average expenses of an adult, and the expenses for children in the upper income group are two times higher than those of the low income group. However, the difference between expenses on hobbies and clothing is more than three times. According to the data from 2007, 9.4 per cent of children, or about 20,000 children, live in absolute poverty, 5.7 per cent in the risk of poverty. In comparison to adults, children suffer relatively more because of the deterioration of environment conditions. “Poverty of a child is influenced by social-political decisions. First of all, it concerns the effectiveness and purposefulness of the support from the society, that is the benefits and services, and to what extent they reach the child. As a wider political context, the solidarity between different political interest groups has a role here,” said Kutsar. She added that state family benefits, parental benefits and increased basic exemption according to the number of children, have worked quite well, between 2000–2007 they have reduced the percentage of children living below the relative poverty line by about a third and concerned about 20,000 children. The effect has been the greatest to families with many children. According to Kutsar, families with an unemployed parent are a problem for Estonia, and the influence of mobility on mitigation of poverty is lover than the average of the European Union. “Loss of work brings along risk of poverty, but long-term unemployment keeps in permanent poverty. It would be sensible to think about a complex of political measures: active labour market measures, creating work opportunities, combining family policy and welfare policy,” Kutsar recommended.
Katrin Saks stressed that the poverty mitigation programme that was prepared in the end of the 1990s was not officially recognised and implemented because it was thought that high-speed economic growth would eliminate poverty. She repeated the statement that the increasing material welfare of societies does not reduce risks but increases them. As an example, Saks mentioned a study conducted in the USA, which showed that the cost of the poverty of children for a state was at least 4 per cent of GDP. Smaller cost of the productivity and social contribution of children from poor families –1.3%, the higher price of crime – 1.3%, increase of health costs, worse health etc. Saks emphasised the need to increase the level of subsistence benefit and change its way of calculation. She remarked that the Union for Child Welfare supported the system of universal subsidies at the state level and gave an overview of the activities of the Union in combating poverty of children.
Heljo Pikhof spoke about the problems caused by the stratification of society, and also unemployment and the diminishing capability of local governments to help families with children. According to Pikhof, we should devote more attention to the benefits and free services targeted at children. Besides that, she thought the Employment Contracts Act should be changed, the unemployment insurance benefit should be increased and the circle of recipients of the benefit should be extended. Pikhof proposed to establish a common foundation of the Union for Child Welfare and Unemployment Insurance Fund, where both companies and private persons could make tax exempt donations.
Comments were presented by Mai Treial, Marek Strandberg, Mailis Reps, Liisa-Ly Pakosta, Eiki Nestor, Tatjana Muravjova, Marika Tuus, Olga Sõtnik, Urmas Reinsalu and Kadri Simson.
On the motion of the Rural Affairs Committee, the second reading of the Bill on Amendments to § 102 of the State Assets Act (713 SE), initiated by the same Committee, was concluded. The purpose of the amendments to the Act is to simplify and speed up extension of the contracts (for the grant of use of land) entered into before the entry into force of the State Assets Act in order to ensure consistent purposeful use and maintenance of lands under nature conservation management. The Act is to be amended by adding a section that deals with the specifications of extending the lease contracts concluded with the aim of purposeful use of lands situated on protected territories. If the Bill is passed, it will be possible at the end of the term of lease contracts for the purposeful use of lands situated on territories under nature conservation management to extend them for another five years if the expired contract included a provision enabling the extending and the user of the land has fulfilled his/her obligations correctly. The Bill was sent to the third reading.
Due to the end of the working hours of the sitting of the plenary assembly, the first reading of the Bill on Amendments to the Alcohol, Tobacco, Fuel and Electricity Excise Duty Act and Fiscal Marking of Liquid Fuel Act (680 SE), initiated by the Estonian Centre Party Faction, was adjourned. The deliberation will be resumed on Tuesday, 13 April.
For more details, read the verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian):
The Riigikogu Press Service