Wednesday, 26 November 2014 00:00

How to integrate in the Roma community

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We live in a globalized world that recently is facing with a deep economic crisis. Worldwide, every fifth person is poor and in Macedonia every third citizen. From a historical perspective, poverty is a phenomenon that has always existed in societies because of anomalies in the system of organization of the state. Unlike the past, today poverty is unacceptable and is a constant challenge for its elimination and eradication. Poverty is inherently contested concept. However, scientists, policy makers, and even politicians agree on one thing - that poverty is a problem. Whatever the definition or description of the poverty is, the primary or underlying message is that poverty is not just a condition, but an unacceptable condition.

After the Second World War governments undertook greater responsibility and determination to eliminate poverty, so that the common platform set to rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan and set Millennium Development Goals 2000-2015.

In the world over 80% of people live with less than $ 10 per day, 25 thousand children die every day due to poverty, 12.3 million people are victims of forced labor and 186 million are unemployed. Macedonia is also covered by these trends, according to the UN (United Nations), 50% of the population live in some sort of poverty and despite this discouraging figure it is considered that certain social groups are particularly exposed to poverty when compared to the other. [1]

The Republic of Macedonia, inevitably is part of this process, and for these reasons it has a strategy for reducing the poverty. Nevertheless, despite the adoption of the strategy, there was an upward trend of the poverty by 4% in 1990, that reached to 30.4% in 2011. This situation indicates that there is a need of adjusting the lifestyle of the population according to the minimum conditions. Learning a new way of living with fewer opportunities and limitations is a difficult and painful process for the individuals and the families.

However, part of the Macedonian citizens has been living for long time in poor conditions and I can say that they “got used” to it. I talk about the Roma community, which is a synonym for successful survival in poor substandard living conditions. Therefore, considering the growing trend of poverty in the world and in Macedonia it is time to set up reverse thesis that in terms of increased poverty there is no need to “integrate” the Roma community in the current social trends. Conversely, the new generation of poor people should be integrated and taught by the example of the Roma community. In this short analysis I will give some examples of how the new poverty in Macedonia can be adjusted or integrated to the lifestyle of the Roma community.


Politics and legislation in Macedonia

The Republic of Macedonia, like any other country, has a definition that determines whether and in what category of poverty belongs a group or an individual. As poor persons are considered families and groups of persons whose resources (material, cultural and social) are at the level which excludes them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the country in which they live[2]. Poverty means condition in which basic needs are greater than the possibilities for their satisfaction.[2]

According to the Constitution, Macedonia is a social state that guarantees minimum standards of rights for worthy and decent life. Nevertheless, the governments of Macedonia do not succeed to cope with this phenomenon or to introduce policies that will enhance economic activity and standard of living. Of course, government policies are not the only factor that affects the economic performance, the situation is largely dependent on the macroeconomic occasion in the region and beyond.

The law on Social protection defines the financial support for the unemployed and socially vulnerable families. According the law, one-member family receive 35.6 Euro (2 174 MKD) ; two members family 48.8 Euro (2 979 MKD) ; three member family benefits 62 Euro (3 784 MKD) ; four member families receives monthly 74.7 Euro (4 558 MKD), while five-member family receives monthly 88.4 Euro (5 393 MKD) social assistance. These amounts of social assistance receive only the persons who seek financial support for the first time.  Citizens who use the social welfare more than three years receive half of the above amount. The law also gives an opportunity for additional financial support for the employees whose monthly income per family member is less in terms of the monthly consumer basket for a family of 4 members.

Besides the positive legal regulations and responsibilities of the institutions that are responsible for providing social protection, they are not regularly updating the data on the number of welfare recipients. On the website of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy there is no information about the number of social assistance beneficiaries while the State Office of Statistics has published data about the beneficiaries in 2010 and 2011. It is very difficult to compare the data by years in order to see what the trend is and to check whether the undertaken measures of the institutions provide concrete results in terms of socially excluded and unemployed people. So far, the state has provided social support to 35 000 – 49 000 families into various categories.


Factors that produce poverty

In the last 30-40 years, the world poverty has increased by two times. As a result of the increased number of poor people, the number of poor countries has doubled. Undoubtedly Macedonia belongs to a group of poor developing countries. The official statistical office stated that 30.4% live in poverty.  There are several factors that produce this growing trend of poverty:

Factors of social context:

  • Class explanation - poverty is a result of marginalization of the people that are excluded from production processes thus limiting their life choices;
  • Administrative explanation - poverty is attributed to mistakes and inefficiency of public services (inability of political leaders, bureaucracy, etc.).
  • Inequality - poverty is a product of inequality in the social structure which implies denial of all possibilities (racial and gender inequality).

The Pathological explanations attach the poverty to the character and behavior of poor people. Here are included:

  • Individual explanation - the poor are accustomed to being inadequate, to make wrong choices in life, and thus are unable to create their lifestyle;
  • Familial explanation - the belief that poverty reigns with one family and such a poor explanation held for generations ;
  • Subcultural explanation - “the culture of poverty," teaches poor to be different and to adapt to the poverty together with eliminating any ambition and faith.[3]

It’s obvious that parts of poverty are the unemployed who do not work in a while or are excluded from the labor market because of their age. The trend of unemployment in Macedonia constantly is moving between 30 and 35%, which is a burden on our small underdeveloped economy. Although part of the unemployed are active in the informal economy, which is 45% of the total economy, its essential problem that none of the governments failed to eradicate the system and find a solution.

In certain periods institutions undertook measures to purify the number of unemployed as artificial contribute to reducing the number of registered job seekers, which essentially does not change the situation. In such bureaucratic measures, mostly Roma population were eliminated from the records as a passive unemployed. So this phenomenon rather than a systematic solution has become part of daily politicking authorities before and after the election cycles in order to control the consistency of the electorate.


How to live according to the Bureau of Statistics?

The consumption basket in Macedonia year by year is more and more expensive due to inflation i.e. the rise in prices does not mean that it increases the purchasing power of citizens. Classically, basket products include wheat products, meat, fish, milk, dairy products, eggs, oils and fats, fruits, vegetables, sugar, chocolate and confectionery products, other food products, non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. Starting from 2011, the State Statistical Office has stopped to calculate the consumption basket with the current criteria in order to follow the EU recommendations aimed to harmonize our statistical system with that of the EU. For this purpose, the State Statistical Office in 2010 for the first time conducted the survey for income and living conditions, which is fully harmonized with the recommendations of Eurostat. This survey will be a source for calculation of internationally comparable data on living standards in the country.[4] The last estimate for the amount of the consumption basket was made in December 2010 in which the average net wage per worker was 351 Euro (21 454 MKD). The total costs for food and beverages were 202 Euro (12 342 MKD), where the disposable income is around 149 Euro (9 112 MKD), or about 42.5%. Taking into account the fact that the consumption basket contains only food and beverages, occupies 57.5% of the average wage in the country. It turns out that the citizens spend more than half of the salary for imported products.

Let us illustrate it with a concrete example:

Suppose that we have a family with four members and only one member is employed. The employed person earns 351 Euro (21 454 MKD) per month. Around 60% of the earned amount will be spent on consumption basket that costs 204 Euro (12 454 MKD). If we subtract the costs for the consumption basket from the earnings, the remaining amount is it around 147 Euro (9,000 MKD). Where should he/she spend this money? He/she still needs to pay the expenses for electricity, water, rent (if paid), expenditure on education of children, clothing, health, etc.

Now I will analyze how much money in reality a four-member family could spend on the consumption basket?


Based on the calculations above it appears that the average basket is more expensive for around 43.3 Euro (2 646 MKD) than the defined one without calculating the cost for meat, dairy and clothing. The decision where to spend on these necessities depend on each family, whereby the families usually cut from the food or delay the payment of the bills for electricity, heating, water, etc. Let recall that the average basket is calculated according to the amount of the national average wages. How it is possible to provide these items with the welfare of about 82 Euro (5 000 MKD)? 

The answer is simple and very clear, it is not possible to feed a family with the support provided by the state. If the state provides only about 82 Euro (5 000 MKD) and the family inevitably spends minimum 246 Euro (15,000 MKD) than it also arises the question about the taxes that the state receives when purchasing any product. Each product is at least 4 times taxed while got into the hands of the consumers. The producer pays taxes on raw materials and labor force, than tax is paid for the transportation of the product, tax is paid for the trade by wholesalers and retailers, at the end  the customer pays 5% or 18% value added tax VAT. If the amount of  246 Euro (15,000 MKD) is taxed 5 times by 5% (minimum) it amounts in total 25% gain on each item for the state, or 61.4 Euro (3 750 MKD). If we subtract this amount from the given amount of our example 74.7 Euro (4558 MKD) for 4 member family, it turns out that the state pays only 13.2 Euro (808 MKD) monthly social assistance. So, it is 13 euros monthly assistance per family or in total 156 euros social assistance per year. At the end the calculation shows that the state spends 7.6 million euros budget funds which are irrevocably given to 49 000 families –users of the social assistance.


How is to live in Roma poverty?

From the stated calculations, it appears that every family and each individual must find his/her own best way to provide to some extent decent feeding for all family members. Roma people have been doing this for centuries. While doing this, they have been often suppressed and oppressed by the institutions and particular groups of individuals. But the ordinary citizen who is part of the new poverty has an advantage, his/her social status and treatment by the institutions is far better that automatically means it is easier for him/her to deal with poverty.

The following recommendations are made in order to indicate the particular needs of getting used or weaning from the way of feeding, thinking, behaving and acting in reduced circumstances, with a clear distinction of the differences to the Roma community:

1. Use your previous social capital at the maximum level (protectionism)

Roma do not have social capital as the major community, which means they do not have relatives and friends who are employed in institutions or private companies to help them in emergencies. The new poverty in Macedonia can always find support within the system and in private business or family friendly lines, solidarity in ethnic and religious affiliation. This does not apply to Roma, so head up, it will be easier for you to deal with poverty than the ordinary Roma.

2. Consume less food

If you can manage that your family got used to consume only one meal per day, preferably a cheaper food without meat, milk, fruits and desserts, then you will succeed to survive the end of the month with the social benefits. Not to mention that alcohol, cigarettes and travel vacations are imaginary ideals in this kind of circumstances.

3. Purchase clothes only ones in several years

The clothes and shoes that you own should optimize your utility, therefore, rarely wash in order not to torn them, if they are torn try to sew them and use them until the material can withstand. Patching the shoes cost money, so start exercising alone to do that using some older and useless shoes.

4. Upbringing and education of children by any means

Try to make your children to get used to study from old books and to go to school with older and cheaper bags, without one meal at school or just a meal at home. If you want to give more to your children then you should find a way for extra earnings. For example: go out in the morning, work all day for a small daily earning 3-5 Euro (200-300 MKD) and bring some food at home. Meanwhile the oldest child should take care of those who are not in the school age. If any of the children is less successful or uninterested in learning, when the child will become 10 years take it with you to work for additional daily help. If interested and successful in studying than leave them alone to deal with the homework because you do not have time or perhaps a knowledge to help them. If the child complains that the teachers or friends mistreat her, gave lower grades, placed her on the last bench, or if most of the mates do not associate with her because she is poor, you will say that she has to withstand with that because she must successfully obtain a degree and work. If she graduated and still cannot find a job because she does not have connections, she is not political suitable, does not have money to buy the job offer, than offer him/her to require a stall on the black market in order to earn something.

5. Saving and just saving

You must constantly try to find new ways for saving from other living expenses that are not food. In the winter you must go to sleep earlier, and wake up later in order to save wood for hitting. You have to get used to live without electricity because of unpaid bills, to be clean with less hot water and almost no hygiene products; to go to the doctor only in extremely poor health. If you go to some public institutions to seek a public service be prepared to the closed doors and counter refusals.  

6. Do not refuse earnings that are ridiculously low

In the absence of stable employment you must get used to work everything that is not against the law. The state tolerates daily work in the gray economy, so often you can offer physical labor for cleaning, carrying, digging, small trade in products etc. You should be ready that at the end of the day you will not get the money in hand but will have a product as compensation or simply telling you to come another day for your per diem. Well, it is still good that you have to take money and you do not owe to anyone, so it turns out that you are in positive.

7. Dump benefits

In extremely bad situations the public dumps and containers are a source of income, where except food you can find old metal, plastic, paper and other valuables that with little adjustment or repair can ready for sale. However, for a long-term work with second hand raw materials you will need to be careful of the legal obligations, open a bank account to pay off what you gathered around. If you accumulated more than 197 Euro (12 000 MKD) per year in your account then wait for the government to abolish the welfare assistance everything is according to law.

8. Try to be innovative and positive

It is important not to lose your hope that one day you will find a well-paid job. The painful life makes you to think and to invent solutions, so by the time you will be the future innovator for specific problems and needs. It is not that terrific because Roma are doing that for centuries, without institutions, without state, without protection and power. Just living day for day, day for another day and do they do not make troubles. Share your happy and sad moments with the poor. When you have chance for to make a big celebration do not give up, because still you live just once.

9. Be a farmer or move from town to village

If you have a piece of land that is owned by you or your family, do not hesitate to start working on it. The stakes and risks are smaller when compared to what you can get for feeding your family. Imagine the situation when you do not have land and opportunity for consuming fruits and vegetables for free and must buy each product. Roma do not have land, country and opportunity to cultivate and grow something for their families, but they are still surviving and functioning in everyday life.

I hope that the recommendations stated above will be useful for you by the fact that it will be easier to know how to face and overcome poverty. From the analysis we can realize that there are different types of poverties that have their beginnings and endings. Roma have always been victims of these beginnings and they always end to a poverty, many generations survived by finding new ways to survive and overcome this phenomenon.

[1] Report on poverty and social exclusion in Macedonia for 2010

[2] National Strategy for reducing poverty and social exclusion in Republic of Macedonia 2010-2020

[3] Law on Social protection  Official Gazette of R. Macedonia  No. 79/09  from 24.06.2009

[4] What kind of measures the civil society has taken in reducing the poverty

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