NEWS

Initial welfare measures for vulnerable population groups

Traffic-light children, abused women, unmarried mothers and other population groups under some kind of threat or social exclusion and who are not in the habit of receiving state aid are to become the focus of the new leadership of the Ministry for Health and Social Solidarity, which has set as its priority a comprehensive action plan for these groups. «On the one hand, the program includes an evaluation of existing measures and policies in order to pinpoint omissions and, on the other, to devise measures to prevent the exclusion of vulnerable groups, protect people in need and support those who do not have sufficient means but who are unable to work,» Deputy Minister Giorgos Constantopoulos told Kathimerini. Traffic-light children. The ministry has asked the National Center for Direct Social Assistance to find ways to reach these children and direct them to reception centers, such as hostels, until their family circumstances and legal status can be ascertained. The State will then either offer their families support or include the children in the ministry’s other social welfare programs. There are also plans for a broader network of inter-Balkan cooperation to enable children to return safely to their families and communities in their countries of origin. Abused women. The ministry, in cooperation with other agencies, such as the General Secretariat for Equality and local government, is planning a number of measures including safe houses, social welfare and legal aid as well as temporary financial aid. People with disabilities. The main tool for keeping an eye on support measures for the disabled will be a card issued to people with permanent disabilities, so as to put an end to their annual ordeal of having their disability reconfirmed. The card will record personal data and medical history. «The card will make use of data to confirm the bearer’s identity and evaluate his or her condition, thereby avoiding mistakes and abuse of the system,» said Constantopoulos. Authorities will maintain files of records by state welfare services. The use of new information technology will avert abuse of the system and permit the appropriate monitoring of the individual’s condition. Large families. During the election campaign, the New Democracy party promised to change the definition of large families to those with three, rather than the current four, children. «This proposal announced by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is aimed at confronting the country’s demographic problem, since families with three children are population stabilizers in any country. The prime minister has made a commitment and soon there will be specific amendments. These measures to support large families will be part of a more general framework to review the policy of subsidies, which will be a main priority for the National Program for Social Cohesion and Solidarity.» This program includes policies for 2004-2008 for protecting vulnerable population groups. «It will specialize on the basis of a modern operational action plan coordinated by the newly formed Special Secretariat for Social Integration Policies and will be implemented by the ministry’s monitoring services,» said the deputy minister. «The program will focus, among other things, on improving administrative and organization systems in public welfare services, strengthening voluntary groups active in welfare work – we have already invited these groups to enter into a dialogue – and improve certification and evaluation procedures,» he said. The program will also provide means to monitor private welfare groups (benefit organizations, the employment of people from vulnerable groups), support for the rights of these people, improved financial support (such as subsidies), in combination with an improved management of the welfare system’s economic resources. Also required is a general program to ensure dignified conditions for people in need. The first institutional measures should be under way by the end of 2004 or early 2005, said Constantopoulos. They will involve: – Strengthening procedures for planning and establishing strategy by means of a Research Institute for Social Protection and Solidarity, an extension of the National Council of Social Welfare. – Sheltered workshops for people with disabilities. – Dialogue on social solidarity through a special advisory body. – The institution of Corporate Social Responsibility, to benefit more and more voluntary groups by means of social budgets set up by healthy businesses. In Greece, there is already a network of 80 firms that operates independently of the ministry and which has not yet developed its full potential. The ministry is also examining the possibility of providing incentives in the form of tax breaks or more favorable loan terms for businesses to set up creches and support other social welfare groups.