Day 14, BUS 1: Zagreb, 7 May
8 May 2018
It was a splendid day of campaigning in Zagreb! The group was warmly welcomed by the President of the Croatian network, Nino Zganes, at a well-attended panel discussion on minimum income and poverty in Croatia that took place at the representation of the European Commission.
Jelena Adamlje from the local network kicked off with some pretty incredible figures: in Croatia 800.000 people are at-risk-of-poverty, over one in five of the population of 4 million. The minimum income is only 28% of the median income and social assistance is very low at 106€ a month.
Tanja Katkic Stanic from the Ministry for demography, family, youth and social policy said that the goal of their policy is to empower people to get back into the labour market and be able to take care of their families. She admitted however that Croatian minimum income systems need to reach out to more people in need and that the current benefit level is not adequate. She announced that the government is working on a system of guaranteed minimum pensions and on more coordination and better quality of services. A new law on social work could respond to the need for more community workers who can reach out to poor people, she said.
MEP Mariana Petir spoke about the huge problem of child poverty in Croatia: 40 to 70% of parents can’t afford to give their children the small amount of money that is needed for school and 1 in 4 children don’t have their own bed. She also spoke about hidden poverty in rural areas, especially amongst women.
Professor Zrinscak, one of the co-creators of the Croation network, added that since joining the EU, poverty is no longer a priority in the relations between the EU and Croatia, although it was key during the accession period. The European semester policies and country specific recommendations do not support social policies and efforts to fight poverty are not evaluated well.
Zorana Uzelac Bosnjak who represented the city of Zagreb insisted on the importance of better coordination between national and local services.
Zdenko Babic from the Croatian EMIN network added that in cash-based societies, people need cash to survive. 106 € simply is not enough to live on. Social assistance represents only 0.3% of GDP, so the network and the idea that there is no money is not acceptable. Social rights are being reduced in Croatia nowadays, affecting child poverty and elderly people. The minimum income system is overly bureaucratic with a lot of barriers to access. Only 12% of people who need support actually get it.
Petra Bratos from the homeless network said that people in shelters don’t get the minimum income because ‘their expenses are covered’, reducing the concept of basic needs to accomodation alone. After leaving the shelter, there is often a waiting period of up to 5 months to get the benefit.
During the public debate that followed, much emphasis was put on the precarious situation of older people. Social workers declared their support for decent minimum income schemes since the benefits in Croatia can’t guarantee a life in dignity. They argued in favour of additional income support on top of social assistance.
To conclude the round table, Nino Zganec from APN Croatia denounced myths about people living in poverty. He stressed the need to find a new paradigm in society to fight stigmatisation. He said that ‘it is about dignity against profit, so we must make the fight against poverty a political priority’.
In the afternoon, organisations from the network (Caritas, Red Cross, Pragma, the Network for the Fight agianst Homelessness) presented their work. People with experience of poverty in Croatia told us about the challenges they face and the lack of an adequate minimum income.
To round off the day, a group of musicians from Zagreb called ‘Kings of the Street’ who represented Croatia at the Eurovision in 2008, gave us a glimpse of hope for a brighter future, with their traditional Croatian songs of love.
Quote of the day: “Politicians should understand our reality and deliver on their promises! Before going into Parliament, they should stay in a shelter for at least 2 months, to know what it is like to have no home. And after that, they should have to wait for over 2 months to receive 50€ for social assistance. The Croatian law on debt repayment should be changed urgently, since it cuts already low benefits by two thirds” said Darion Genzic, a homeless person from Zagreb.