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On 16 September, United National Movement presidential candidate Davit Bakradze held a press conference and stated: “The foundation for issuing social assistance should be income and not possessions which might not reflect a family’s financial situation. Unfortunately, this reasoning is no longer currently supported. To our information, roughly 70,000 citizens lost social assistance because the Ministry started administering strictly, launched the evaluation process anew and raised people’s points based on different items and properties. It is precisely for this reason that I am suggesting the government continue the reform initiated last year.”

FactCheck

looked into the presidential candidate’s statement and took special notice of the following questions: to what extent has the number of social assistance (subsistence allowance) recipients decreased? What changes have been introduced this year to socially unprotected families’ socio-economic status evaluation criteria?

The Social Assistance Programme has been implemented in Georgia since 2005. In 2005 the Georgian Government passed Resolution N 93 defining the methodology for evaluating the socio-economic status of socially unprotected families. The formula for this evaluation consists of three major elements: family income, family property and family needs. Following a family’s application to the Social Assistance Programme, a social service agent evaluates the income and possessions of the family and grants them certain rating points. Pecuniary social assistance is given to families who have been granted 57,000 rating points or less by the Social Service Agency.

Based on Resolution N 149, issued on 24 April 2012, several items of long-term utilisation (vacuum cleaner, hi-fi, personal computer, toaster), previously evaluated as high-value pieces of domestic use, were taken out of the socially unprotected families’ socio-economic status evaluation formula. In 2013 a television satellite receiver was removed from the status evaluation formula as well (Resolution N 93 Article 6 Paragraph 2 Subparagraph j). Starting from 1 October 2013 another change came into force affecting the evaluation of the socio-economic status of elderly persons in the form of their pensions (income), amounting to GEL 150, which will be factored into the formula as GEL 110.

According to the statistical data published on the website of the Social Service Agency, 163,183 families (501,445 citizens) received subsistence allowance (monthly pecuniary assistance) in 2012. As can be gathered from the statistical data for 2013, today 141,218 families (432,165 citizens) are receiving the subsistence allowance. Setting the data from 2012 against 2013 we see that the number of families receiving social assistance has decreased by 21,965; that is, 69,280 citizens this year. This number includes everyone for whom social aid has been discontinued or suspended.

It is also to be noted that starting from 1 July 2013 social assistance has been doubled for people below the poverty line. Prior to 1 July the first member of the social aid recipient family was given GEL 30 and every next member received GEL 24 whereas presently, GEL 60 is allocated to the first member of the family and GEL 48 is given out to every next member.

Davit Bakradze claims that “roughly 70,000 citizens lost social assistance” for the following reasons:  the Ministry started administering the matter strictly, the Ministry launched a new inspection of socially unprotected families and the Ministry raised the rating points based on different items and properties.

In our inquiry we addressed the Social Service Agency and were informed that the inspections of socially unprotected families are of a regular nature and represent an ongoing process. In 2013 the Social Service Agency requested from the Revenue Service information regarding individuals listed in the unified database of socially unprotected families. The Social Service Agency reports that such practice was common in the past years as well but following the administrative changes introduced in May of 2013, information on the income of individuals registered in the unified database of socially unprotected families is being requested from the Revenue Service on a monthly basis.

In the case of the requested information revealing the income and the property of the socially unprotected family to be higher than declared, social assistance is suspended or discontinued. In both cases, the family is inspected anew and if its rating points prove not to be exceeding the legally defined 57,000, subsistence allowance will be restored. If the assistance ends up being suspended only temporarily, the family will be reimbursed the amount of allowance for the period spent on inspection. In the case of discontinuation, this amount will, naturally, not be refunded.

A social assistance recipient is required to report to the Social Service Agency in the period defined by the Law on Social Assistance in the case of acquiring new property or starting a new job (having additional income) after having filled out the declaration. Pecuniary social assistance is discontinued to the beneficiaries if they do not meet these obligations set by the law and is suspended temporarily if the fact has not been reported but the allowed period for reporting has not yet expired.

In 2013 subsistence allowance was suspended or temporarily discontinued to those families whose income was proven (by the information acquired from the Revenue Service) to be higher than declared. Later these families were inspected again and social assistance was restored to those whose rating points did not go beyond 57,000. As for the mechanism of granting rating points, it has not been changed and the evaluation of socio-economic status was conducted with the existing (old) methodology. Consequently, due to the abovementioned circumstances and the administrative changes, social assistance was temporarily withheld or taken away from 70,000 citizens.

Davit Bakradze emphasises his point that a foundation for giving out social assistance should be income and not a possession (property). According to him, the previous government had started working towards this goal although the process was stopped this year.

We contacted the former Minister of Health, Zurab Chiaberashvili, who informed us that the previous government had indeed intended to review and modify the formula for evaluating socio-economic status. “The creation of a new formula required an analysis of mistakes according to specific household cases. Field work was to be planned for the purpose of checking the acquired results which would take at least a year due to seasonal adjustments,” noted Chiaberashvili.

We contacted Kako Danelia as well, the Head of the Information Bank Management and Statistics Analysis Department of the Social Service Agency. He has been working in the Agency since 2006. He also verified that “in 2012 the Agency was planning a profound revision of targeted social assistance including a change in the methodology for the evaluation of socially unprotected families’ socio-economic status. It is impossible to foresee what the formula would exactly be like as it would depend on the results of the research conducted in the process of working out a new formula.”

Kako Danelia also noted in our conversation that with the help from UNICEF, the Ministry had already started working on changing the formula. He also emphasised that “as a very substantial part of the Georgian population is active in the non-formal sector, no formula could be based solely upon income.”

Conclusion

In 2013 the Social Service Agency discontinued or suspended subsistence allowance to those households from the unified database of socially unprotected families whose income was proven by the information of the Revenue Service to be higher than declared. The methodology for assessing socio-economic status of socially unprotected families was not changed although some changes did occur in the administering process starting from May of 2013. Consequently, in 2013 the number of social assistance recipient families was 21,965 (69,280 citizens) lower than in 2012.

Davit Bakradze justly claims that the previous government planned to carry out reforms in the field of social assistance. He also correctly indicates the number of citizens who “lost” social assistance this year. It is equally true that the number of families for whom social assistance has been suspended or temporarily discontinued has increased due to the changes implemented in the administering process. He is wrong, however, claiming that the families had “lost” social assistance because the rating points had been raised based on their possessions. Furthermore, the reform aiming to analyse the existing formula for the evaluation of socio-economic status and work out a new one has not been suspended.

Consequently we conclude that Davit Bakradze’s statement: “Roughly 70,000 citizens lost social assistance because the Ministry started administering strictly, launched the evaluation process anew and raised people’s points based on different items and properties,” is HALF TRUE.