At the Round Table “Challenges of Inequality: What Do Numbers and Practice Tell Us”, that was held on February 13, 2017 in Vukovar City Library in cooperation with Youth Info Center Vukovar and project partners, Center for Peace Studies, the results of the IPA GOO project and the Center for Peace Studies’ “The Surveyor of Inequality” research project were presented, along with the work of local associations on reducing social inequality.
Maja Pleić from the Center for Peace Studies presented the key results of “The Surveyor of Inequality” research project, that show that Croatia finds itself close to the European Union average as far as inequality on a national level is concerned.
The Gini coefficient, the most common indicator of inequality is 30.9 in Croatia, which slightly deviates from the average for the European Union (31.0). However, the level of inequality would be significantly higher, i.e. Gini coefficient would be even 49.0 without the support of the system of social protection (the so-called social transfers). The most vulnerable groups in Croatia are people over the age of 65, of which 83.6% are at risk of poverty before social transfers and pensions. Nevertheless, this national average conceals enormous and worrying regional inequalities. In Vukovar-Srijem County, pensioners live with an average monthly pension of 2018 HRK, which is lower than the average pension in Croatia (2381 HRK) and is not enough to cover all the basic costs of living. The Vukovar-Srijem County is among the counties with the worst indicators in the country – regarding the economy, education, standard and the quality of living. Furthermore, this former industrial center nowaday produces only 2.4% of the total GDP of the Republic of Croatia, and with 45.629 HRK per capita placing it among the least productive counties. The consequences of deindustrialization and the reduction of production activities are also reflected in the unemployment rate, which with a high percentage of 33.6% of unemployed population significantly exceeds the national unemployment rate (19.3%). Likewise, the poverty rate, which is 20.4% at the national level, in Vukovar-Srijem County amounts to a worrying 31.9%. Maja Pleić emphasized that the research indicates that the situation in the county is alarming and unsustainable in a long-term, and that it requires major changes in public policies to prevent further deterioration of the economic and social situation, as well as to reduce the inequalities between the counties.
(More on the research project results can be found on the website http://nejednakost.cms.hr/)
Karolina Šoš Živanović and Biljana Gaća from the Youth Info Center Vukovar spoke at the round table on the experience of their own work on the reduction of inequalities from the perspective of young people.
Despite the existence of the Youth Council as an advisory body that should promote the rights, needs and interests of young people in Vukovar, there are some misunderstandings about the scope of this body and the difficulties in motivating young people to join. This kind of situation significantly impedes institutional influence on the direction of youth policies. One of such attempts is the adoption of the proposal for the Municipal Youth Program, which has been actively developing for 4 years now, but has not yet been officially adopted.
Karolina Šoš Živanović pointed out the importance of the urgent adoption of this program, as there should be a coherent policy on which the Youth Council, the city administration and associations could rely on. Biljana Gaća reminded on educational policies in Vukovar, stating that there are great disparities regarding the schooling conditions for children depending on the school they are attending. The infrastructure problems and lack of resources are the reason why some schoolchildren in Vukovar, depending on the school, enjoy the standard of the best equipped schools in Zagreb, while others have difficulties with basic infrastructure and working conditions. Although there are some breakthroughs, a significant number of children are deprived of working conditions that would allow for quality education. Also, the problem with the inadequate, i.e. the insufficient kindergarten capacities leaves some children without the possibility of high-quality socialization and skills acquisition that would enable for their easier orientation within the school system.
Tamara Mikulić from the social self-service shop “Duga”, warned about the problem of the NGO programs sustainability. The social supermarket users, many of them situated in the Vukovar area, present the most vulnerable group of citizens. The members of the “Duga” association also warned that the threshold for meeting social welfare requirements and the access to the social supermarket is so low that their work in large number of cases helps people with mere survival.
Thus, despite the active social policies aimed at reducing the number of people at risk of poverty – a large number of people, even after social transfers, is still unable to meet the minimum living needs. In a particularly difficult situation are the users of social supermarket, and there are many such people – the long-term unemployed, the retired ones and singles. The current challenge of “Duga” is to ensure a continuous supply of groceries for the social supermarket. Despite the great success of the “Free the Food from VAT” Initiative, in order to keep the social supermarket sustainable, further efforts need to be made to create future mechanisms that would support and encourage the constant inflow of groceries.
Ivana Sučić from the Safe House of the Association B.a.B.e. Vukovar presented the results of the research “Women in the Labor Market”, giving a comprehensive overview of the inequalities women face in an attempt to reconcile family life and wagework.
The numerous policies have a role of their own in addressing the issue of gender inequality: educational, health, tax, family, pension policies, etc. An active strategy for reducing the gender inequality therefore needs to be planned on the basis of research that would cover all these spheres. As Sučić emphasized, an extremely negative message is sent, due to the fact that there is a greater difference in salaries between women and men in the public than in the private sector.
From the inequality factors that make life particularly difficult in the area of Vukovar, Sučić has singled out the existing kindergarten capacities that make it difficult for women to coordinate between household and work obligations, but also the search for work. Due to the non-existent extended stay in kindergarten, women often have to refuse jobs that involve working in shifts. Sučić also warned that state bodies are not always willing to recognize the contribution by the civil society organizations that actively work on reducing inequalities. The program of free legal assistance, which the organization B.a.B.e enabled to exist for years in Vukovar, this year lost the financial support of the City.
Despite the limited range and capacities that civil society organizations have, it is evident that there is a rising number of “social services” traditionally secured by the state, which is now being transposed to the civil society organizations. However, this policy is not followed by any increase in resources being secured for the organizations. The question that therefore arises is how to avoid shifting the responsibility from the state towards the associations, i.e. how to enable the organizations to continue their work as a corrective for the state. Otherwise, the question is how to ensure the viability of those NGO programs that ensure the reduction in social inequality, and which have no equivalent in state measures.
This activity was carried out with the financial support from the European Union and the Government of the Republic of Croatia Office for Cooperation with NGOs, within the framework of the IPA Project “Education for Citizens – Citizens for Social Development and Solidarity” (IPA2012-01-35-010209).