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Real support for people in disadvantaged situations: Long-term unemployed serving the isolated elderly and ill



The ‘Real Support for People in Disadvantaged Situations’ policy of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria was active from April 2004 to December 2007. Through this policy, pre-retirement people with long-term unemployment, many of whom had low qualifications and some of them of Roma origin, were invited to be trained as social workers and then were assigned as social assistants to elderly single or sick people.

Thus, the social problems of two different groups received simultaneously a positive solution. The policy was part of a nation-wide project, SANE (Social Services and New Employment), initiated and designed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and realized in cooperation with the Bulgarian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.

This was an innovative project which mobilized the resources of local communities and raised the capacity of NGOs as social service providers.

Presentation and objectives of the project

The main objective of the project was to pilot a new employment promotion scheme for people at the pre-retirement age in exchange for the delivery of social services to vulnerable people. Thus, the project aimed to contribute to the social inclusion of vulnerable groups (elderly lonely people and people with disabilities) and to fight unemployment among the least perspective group of people with low or insufficient qualifications at pre-retirement age.

The elaboration of the methodology for delivering social services was based on experiences shared in mixed focus-groups involving the participation of all actors: beneficiaries of the services, social assistants, and social providers and administrators of the services.

The direct project beneficiaries were elderly and disabled people, who received improved social services, as well as long-term unemployed people at pre-retirement age, who were trained and started new jobs as social assistants.

The project was a pilot model for decentralized financing, management, delivery, and monitoring of social services to local communities. It was introduced initially in 12 municipalities in 2006, and has been applied at the national level via the National Program ‘Assistants to People with Disabilities’ financed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in 117 municipalities.

Establishment of the aid policy

Other elements in the institutionalisation process were:

• The methodology for delivering social services has been developed and approved by the National Agency for Social Assistance;

• A roster of all providers of social services (private and public legal entities) has been created;

• An association of NGO providers of social services was established in 2008, initially chaired by Mila Sokolova;

• The profession ‘social assistant’ has been legally recognized with its inclusion in the National Classification of Professions;

• An amendment was introduced in the Law of Social Assistance for the decentralised management of social services.

The overall implementation cost was U.S.$7,014,684. Sources were the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy; the pilot municipalities (U.S.$262,921); the United Nations Development Programme (U.S.$100,000); and consumers’ taxes.

Main results

The main results of the project have been:

• Strengthening of institutional capacity for financing, managing, delivering, and monitoring social services at national, regional, and municipality levels;

• Introduction of a decentralised model for delivery of social services in communities and the generation of employment;

• Development of long-term social policy with a double effect: the social inclusion of disadvantaged people and employment for the unemployed.

The obstacles

The main challenge has been the dialogue with all the institutions involved in the project (the Municipality, the Directory for Social Assistance; the local Employment Office). Even now, when Mila Sokolova is heading the Social Service office at the Municipality, there are still communication problems since there are not enough NGOs with sufficient capacities to deliver social services. Another big issue is the sustainability of the project as it needs to be permanently regenerated.