How austerity measures have affected citizens’ social rights

Unconstitutional reduction of pensions, introduction of the “poverty tax”, reduction of the social assistance for the most vulnerable citizens, growing housing crisis – more than 70% of households cannot afford to pay housing costs, are among the most dramatic indicators of citizens’ social rights since the Government of Serbia started introducing the austerity measures in 2012.

These are some of the conclusions of the report Second-Class Rights – Social Rights in Light of Austerity Measures (2012-2020) publicly presented yesterday by the A 11 Initiative. 

“Pursuant to obligations stemming from international treaties, Serbia has an obligation to continuously improve economic and social rights of its citizens. However, that is not the case in Serbia, especially in last eight years since the introduction of the austerity measures. All around the world, the austerity measures have affected the poorest citizens and that inequality in shouldering the burden is the biggest consequence. Serbia had a unique opportunity to give up the introduction of austerity measures after having seen their adverse effects in other countries, or at least to design them in such a way to distribute the burden in more balanced way”, says Danilo Ćurčić, program coordinator of the A 11 Initiative.

The inefficiency of protection of economic and social rights in Serbia is indicated by the fact that at least one third of all citizens’ complaints to the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality relate to these two types of rights, he adds.

He reiterated that citizens of Serbia currently have no possibility to protect their economic and social rights before international bodies, since Serbia failed to ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Once Serbia signs this Protocol, Serbian citizens will have the opportunity to seek the protection of this corpus of rights before international bodies, just as they can now approach the European Court of Human Rights when their civil and political rights are violated. The A 11 Initiative raised this issue two years ago before the competent authorities and in the coming period it will launch a campaign again calling on the state to ratify this Protocol and to enable citizens to protect economic and social rights.

The following are the most important conclusions presented in the Report

* Despite the fact that 1,800,000 citizens are at-risk of poverty, Serbia does not have a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy; 

* Some 70% of households are struggling to pay housing costs and the housing crisis is growing; UN rapporteurs are aware of this issue, but the adoption of the national strategy has been delayed for years; 

* Almost 10,000 beneficiaries of financial social assistance have been forced so far to unpaid labor in order to preserve the social assistance. These measures violate Constitution and the international obligations of the State in relation to the prevention of forced labor and discrimination. The Constitutional Court have failed to issue decision on the constitutionality of the Decree imposing mandatory unpaid work to beneficiaries of financial social assistance for past five years; 

* The new Law on Health Insurance could significantly affect all cancer patients. The amendments to the Law envisage that only 65% of health service costs will be covered to citizens who fail to undergo mandatory screening examinations are prescribed. Therefore, those who fail to undergo the preventive examination that could help detect diseases in early stage, will not be entitled to full coverage of costs; 

* The so-called „poverty tax“ was introduced five years ago i.e. the property tax paid by the tenants of social housing and housing for refugees and internally displaced persons. For years now, the Constitutional Court has not issued ruling on the constitutionality of this tax.

Photo by: Ivana Aćimović