Ukraine: Digitalization of the social sphere

Ukraine adopted the Concept of e-Government Development in 2017, which provides comprehensive development of e-services in accordance with European requirements.

New initiatives in the area of digitalization of social sphere in Ukraine

Olena Tarasiuk, Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine

Ukraine adopted the Concept of e-Government Development in 2017, which provides comprehensive development of e-services in accordance with European requirements.

On September 21, 2020 the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine presented a new Strategy for Digital Transformation of the Social Sphere, which will create a unified information environment of the social sphere and show how the government contributes to social cohesion by using digital technologies.

As part of the digital transformation of the social sphere, the ministry will create a unified register of providers and recipients of social services and benefits, as well as introduce a system for their verification.  The register will be based on existing information systems, in particular on the basis of the Register of Insured Persons managed by the Pension Fund of Ukraine.

The Unified information system is introduced into the country’s Social policy practices to address problems like:

  • Complicated access of citizens to receive social support, including
    • absence of remote access;
    • the same person should apply personally to different bodies for different types of social support (these are the Pension Fund, the Social Protection Fund for the Disabled, the Social Insurance Fund, Local Social Protection Bodies, which duplicate each other’s functions). Their separate information systems are not integrated with each other, and the processing of appeals is often time consuming;
  • Lack of proper information of citizens about their social rights and their implementation, in particular, regular information about the provision of social benefits and other types of social support;
  • Complex and non-transparent procedures for allocating and implementing social expenditures;
  • Huge paperwork and huge paper archives;
  • Lack of control over operational processes in the social sphere;
  • Weak, insufficient, and partial integration of social sphere information systems with other state information resources;
  • And finally, due to the inflated bureaucracy, the significant administrative costs incurred by the state.

It is also planned that the implementation of the Unified Information System of the Social Sphere (ESIS), through which all types of state social support should be administered, will ensure the appointment, recalculation and implementation of social benefits, as well as will allow:

  • to solve all questions concerning reception of any social benefit and support through the unified social web portal;
  • access to the service regardless of the place of residence (registration);
  • remote access;
  • the avoidance of corruption in the process of providing social support;
  • the opportunity to inform citizens about their social rights and proper protection of these rights;
  • the reduction of administrative spending and bureaucratic apparatus in the social sphere at least twice;
  • transparent distribution and control of state social expenditures;
  • streamlining the planning and implementation of social benefits and verification of their recipients.

Currently, the following electronic services are available online by the Ministry of Social Policy:

  • Assignment of childbirth benefit introduced on March 30, 2017; read here
  • System of pre-registration of documents for housing subsidies introduced in 2015;
  • Municipal nanny introduced on January 1, 2019. As part of the municipal babysitting service, targeted compensation payment for the care of a child under three years of age is paid monthly to one of the parents, adoptive parents or guardians for services provided by legal entities or entrepreneurs (municipal babysitter), which are legally permitted. Such compensation is equal to the official Subsistence Minimum for children under the age of six and is provided to each child in care on the basis of a duly executed contract.

In addition, on July 10, 2019, the complex service “eBaby” for parents of newborns in 11 cities of Ukraine was launched, which will be implemented during 2020-2022. The “eBaby” project significantly simplifies the procedure for receiving services related to the birth of a child, namely, it provides:

  • state registration of the child’s birth;
  • residence registration;
  • entering information about the child in the Register of Patients;
  • registration in the State Register of Individuals – Taxpayers;
  • appointment of state assistance at the birth of a child;
  • issuance of certificates of parents of a large family and a child from a large family;
  • the appointment of assistance for children raised in large families;
  • determination of belonging to the citizenship of Ukraine;
  • entering information into the Unified State Demographic Register.

Thus, with one application, it is possible to receive around 10 public services from different authorities at the same time. To get all the documents for the child in the traditional way, parents have to visit 11 different government agencies and spend at least 10 days on it. The eBaby reduces the number of institutions to 1 – all services can be ordered at once in the same place.

The comprehensive service eBaby is already provided in the mode of offline testing in maternity hospitals, Administrative Services Centers, and Departments of State Registration of Civil Status Acts. After the beta test, the service will be available to parents all over Ukraine and will be provided online on the Unified State Web Portal of Electronic Services “Diia”.

The information platform Help is nearby has been introduced from April 8, 2020 to create conditions for attracting charities, NGOs, businesses, volunteers to help lonely elderly people, people with disability, families with children, in particular with children with disabilities in the quarantine period.

This platform is filled with information on the needs/applications from single elderly people, people with disabilities, families with children, summarized by structural units for social protection of the population of regional and Kyiv city state administrations. The received applications are processed as executive bodies, local governments, charitable and public organizations, socially responsible business, volunteers. The need for assistance is formed at the request of citizens to telephone “hot”-lines that work for local authorities. So far, more than 600,000 citizens have benefited from the assistance.

Assistance for children to natural persons-entrepreneurs for the period of quarantine Such assistance was introduced from May 5 to September 1, 2020. This electronic service for children was introduced to individual entrepreneurs, who have chosen the simplified taxation system and belong to the first and second groups of single tax payers. The amount of assistance was set at the Subsistence Minimum for children of appropriate age groups: for children under 6 years – 1,779 UAH, for children from 6 to 10 years – 2,218 UAH. As of September 3, 2020, there were 88,687 families that have received such assistance (115,244 children, including 59,914 children under the age of 6; 55,330 children under the age of 10).

Registration of citizens’ appeals on issues within the competence of the Ministry of Social Policy. Work with citizens’ appeals to the Ministry of Social Policy is aimed at ensuring citizens’ constitutional right to appeal, creating appropriate conditions for exercising this right.

In addition, the web portal of electronic services of the Pension Fund of Ukraine provides remote services through the personal accounts of citizens and employers, such as:

  • A new model of applying for a pension was introduced, which provides for the submission of documents exclusively in electronic form with an application to the service center once upon receipt of a pension certificate.
  • The mobile application “Pension Fund” was introduced, which provides access to electronic services of the Pension Fund of Ukraine.
  • A Pension Calculator was created to forecast the future old-age pension. When calculating the length of service and salary, all data available in the Pension Fund of Ukraine are used.
  • A system of digitization (retroconversion) of pension cases was introduced. More than 10 million existing pension cases need to be digitized. The work is planned to be completed by 2024, which will allow, in particular, releasing of more than 40 thousand m2 of space occupied by paper archives.
  • The display of information on labor activity, formed according to the reports of employers since 1998 is available in the personal account on the web portal of electronic services of the Fund. This will make it possible to abandon the paper workbook. Users have the opportunity to submit scanned copies of paper workbooks through the web portal of the Foundation’s electronic services.

Armenia: Government’s Response to COVID-19

Up-to date, the Government has introduced 22 socio-economic support programs aimed at addressing the needs and ensuring the proper social protection of the population mostly suffered as a result of the pandemic. These programs, in accordance with the defined criteria, inter alia, include provision of a financial support to families with children.

Brief Information on the Armenian Government’s Response to COVID-19

Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of the Republic of Armenia

Since declaring a state of emergency on March 16 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Government of the Republic of Armenia has undertaken a number of anti-crisis measures and initiatives to slow the spread of the virus, protect the population against infection and mitigate its negative impacts on the socially vulnerable groups.

Up-to date, the Government has introduced 22 socio-economic support programs aimed at addressing the needs and ensuring the proper social protection of the population mostly suffered as a result of the pandemic. These programs, in accordance with the defined criteria, inter alia, include provision of a financial support to families with children under 14 years old and socially vulnerable families with children under the age of 18, families eligible for family and social benefits, single or unemployed pregnant women, as well as dismissed persons, private sector employees and business enterprises mostly affected by the crisis. The response measures, in the presence of the stipulated terms and conditions, also envisage partial compensation of the communal expenses, as well as students’ education fees and loans. Social assistance has been provided to various socially vulnerable population groups in cooperation with international organizations, including financial assistance in a form of cash payments, food baskets, disinfection and hygienic materials.

Steps have been carried out to improve the quality and targeting of the provided support services. These activities include arrangement of delivery of pensions and social benefit packages to beneficiaries, so that they can receive them without leaving home. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has put into operation a new hotline for answering the questions of citizens related to support programmes provided by the Government. From March to July 2020, the average monthly number of calls was 18,000. However, in April, due to the newly commenced social response programs, the average daily number of calls was between 30,000 to 35,000.

All relevant measures have been undertaken to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19 in 24-hour social care and protection institutions, ensure the security and safety of their residents as well as provide a full range of services. At daily support centres food baskets have been provided for vulnerable children-recipients of services. To ensure the continuity of services during the state of emergency in response to the pandemic, social-psychological, knowledge and skills development services have been provided remotely to persons with disabilities at daily centres that provide care and social-rehabilitation services. The specialists have carried out their works both concurrently and via video means of online platforms, such as Zoom, Viber and Facebook. For preparation of tasks, the tools of Google and Quizizz platforms have been introduced and applied.

In order to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities and to ensure their social protection, a number of measures have been applied, including the prolongation of the validity of the disability status without the need to reassess it as originally stipulated in the law, which means that people with disabilities will continue to receive the assistance as prescribed by the law. Taking into account the difficulties caused by the restrictions on movement during the state of emergency, the validity period of the state certificate for obtaining the assistive means for persons with disabilities has also been extended.

More detailed information on the state programs to address social and economic impacts of COVID-19 can be found on the website of the Government of the Republic of Armenia.

North Macedonia: Government’s Response to COVID-19

Since declaring the existence of a state of emergency on 18 March 2020, the Government of North Macedonia has swiftly introduced a series of temporary measures to prevent and mitigate the negative economic and social consequence of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemics. Until now, in addition to the public health prevention measures, three packages of Governmental measures have been put in use…

North Macedonia’s Government Response to COVID-19

Aleksandra Slavkoska & Ana Georgievska (European Centre’s NLO North Macedonia), Ministry of Labor and Social Policy of North Macedonia

Since declaring the existence of a state of emergency on 18 March 2020, the Government of North Macedonia has swiftly introduced a series of temporary measures to prevent and mitigate the negative economic and social consequence of the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemics. Until now, in addition to the public health prevention measures, three packages of Governmental measures have been put in use (“Covid1”, “Covid 2”, “Covid 3”) providing financial assistance to companies as direct support with wage subsidies, tax reliefs, credit support, zero interest loans, support to vulnerable households, unemployment measures, support for education, and other additional regulatory and legislative measures allowing bigger flexibility of the existing procedures related to managing economic activities, trade, etc. This article focuses on the employment retention measures, worker protection measures and support for the most vulnerable individuals.

With regard to key measures aimed at protecting jobs, North Macedonia has implemented a set of employment retention measures. The following two measures are by far the most important: Firstly, a wage subsidy covering the net minimum wage (14,500 MKD or 236 EUR) for the months of April and May for eligible firms and workers; and secondly, a social insurance contribution subsidy, covering 50 per cent of actually paid social security contributions, up to a maximum amount of 5,752 MKD (or 94 EUR) for eligible firms and workers, for April, May and June. This amount corresponds to the maximum amount payable on a net wage of 39,900 MKD. This is conditional on retaining the same number of workers until July (for the minimum wage) and until August (for the social contributions).

The lockdown immediately affected some workers, especially those outside the formal economy, as well as some vulnerable categories who were already out of work. In response, the Government introduced a set of measures aimed at protecting those who have lost their jobs and other sources of income, as well as their families. On two occasions, the Government relaxed the eligibility rules for the main instrument providing a social protection floor, that is, the guaranteed minimum income. According to these new rules established by the Decree in April, the status of “materially deprived household” can be conferred already one month after combined household income did not exceed the guaranteed minimum income level—the pre-lockdown requirement was three months. Previously, eligibility criteria excluded any type of property. Currently, guaranteed minimum income applicants may still be eligible even if they own an apartment (which the household uses as primary residence), a car more than five years old and a plot of land for construction not exceeding 500 square metres. In addition, workers who lost their job because of non-performance, left the job of their own accord or were shifted from the “active” to the “passive” register of the Employment Service Agency, have become eligible to apply for the guaranteed minimum income. Guaranteed minimum assistance beneficiaries are at the same time allowed to continue exercising the entitlement to the cash benefit for covering part of their households’ energy consumption costs for the months from April to September 2020.

Moreover, about 17,000 children coming from households that are of guaranteed minimum assistance beneficiaries were provided with access to the entitlement to child and education allowance, with the ultimate goal of alleviating child poverty. School-age children coming from socially insecure families were provided with mobile Internet cards so that they could follow on-line classes.

Importantly, under the “COVID 3” package, the rules governing eligibility of unemployment benefit were relaxed temporarily so that people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 between 11 March and 30 April became eligible to claim two-month unemployment benefits regardless of their years of service and the ground for termination of the employment contract.

The Decree with the Force of Law on the Application of the Law on Labor Relations adopted by the Government made it possible for women workers who are absent from work due to pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood and adoption to continue to receive compensation to salary until the cessation of the interim measures undertaken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In fact, upon the closure of schools and kindergartens, the first measures taken by the Government of North Macedonia were those aimed at protecting one of the working parents of minors under the age of 10 who need care, pregnant women and chronically ill people. In this regard, the Government instructed employers in the public sector and recommended to private sector employers, for employees who have a minor child up to 10 years of age for whom home care is necessary, that one parent be released from work and work activities and that their absence during this period should be recorded as a justified absence by the employer, while pregnant women and the chronically ill should be released temporarily from work and work activities (that is, not go to work and remain in their homes).

Through the Centers for Social Work, more than 600 packages with protective and hygiene products were provided and distributed to the most vulnerable families, especially those living in substandard conditions. Additionally, in the period from May to July, 4,300 food and hygiene kits are to be distributed to social security beneficiaries, low-income foster families, and families that are guaranteed minimum assistance beneficiaries, who have a child with disabilities in their family.

Furthermore, the elderly and frail, the socially isolated, single parents, and the homeless have been provided with psychological support by telephone every day from 10 am to 2 pm.  The Red Cross has established a support line for the purposes of the service for provision of food, hygiene products, and medicines for the elderly, frail, and lonely.

The soup kitchens in the territory of the Republic of North Macedonia continued to work during this period, thus providing the vulnerable groups of citizens with meals or lunch packages. As one way to support the response in terms of the impact of COVID-19 in the country, specific services for delivery of groceries, medicines, raising public awareness for dealing with COVID-19, etc. have been established in the country.  In 27 municipalities, people have been engaged to deliver services to 1,500 beneficiaries, that is, mainly to the elderly, persons with disabilities, and other persons exposed to social exclusion.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy have provided municipalities with assistance and support to implement the activities aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 by hiring 50 people to do public work for a period of one month.  What is more, efforts have been made to ensure that the persons engaged in public works are Roma people at social risk.

Many of the most vulnerable Roma families who collect scrap metal and/or plastic bottles (PET), or do other similar activities for their livelihood, have been unable to perform them, which generates a state of helplessness, as well as lack of food and basic means of protection.  As an urgent response, they were provided with help in food, disinfectants, and informative materials (leaflets) in Romani language with marked graphically displayed measures for protection against COVID-19.  The aid kits were distributed to 80 families.

With the aim of protecting people with disabilities who need to be accompanied, namely, completely blind people, people using wheelchairs, and people with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities, given that they belong to the group of citizens who are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19, the Government adopted a Conclusion that exempts from work public administration employees who need to be accompanied. This measure was also given as a recommendation to the private sector. See more here & here

Ukrainia: Government’s response to COVID-19

Due to the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine is constantly working on the development and improvement of anti-crisis measures aimed at strengthening the social protection. A number of initiatives have been taken in Ukraine to support socially vulnerable groups.

Ukrainian Government’s response to COVID-19

Olena Tarasiuk (European Centre’s NLO Ukraine), Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine

Due to the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine is constantly working on the development and improvement of anti-crisis measures aimed at strengthening the social protection. A number of initiatives have been taken in Ukraine to support socially vulnerable groups.

Old-age pensions has been improved, in particular, it was provided:

  • a lump-sum payment of 1,000 UAH (exchange rate for early May approximately 29.5 UAH per 1 EUR) for more than 10 million pensioners who have a pension up to 5 thousand UAH and more than 600,000 citizens receiving state social assistance for disability instead of pension;
  • monthly pension allowance of 500 UAH for 1.5 million pensioners aged of 80 years or older and whose pension payment does not exceed 9205 UAH;
  • indexation of labor pensions by 11% for 7 million pensioners.

Pensions and state social benefits are being reassigned automatically without submitting the necessary documents during the quarantine period and one month after the date of completion, in particular for:

  • low-income families;
  • families with children;
  • persons with disabilities.

 

The Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted a resolution on providing additional social guarantees within the quarantine period for individuals entrepreneurs with children and people who lost their jobs and registered at the employment center as unemployed.

Individual entrepreneurs with children and people who lost their jobs and registered at the employment center as unemployed will receive social assistance for each child up to 10 years old at the Subsistence Minimum size for a child of respective age. About 300 thousand families will receive this payment.

The program of housing subsidies has been strengthened, which for the quarantine period provides:

  1. prohibition of the termination of the provision of assigned housing subsidies, except in cases where it is impossible to provide housing subsidies (transfer of a household to another dwelling or a single person death);
  2. additional social protection measures for workers who have been dismissed due to the quarantine (taking into account their income of the unemployment benefit when assigning a housing subsidy instead of the salary, which they received at their previous job); and
  3. providing additional compensation for the costs of some housing services to recipients of housing subsidies increasing by 50% the social standards for electricity, natural gas for cooking and heating water, cold and hot water, drainage due to the forced permanent staying at home and increase of consumption of related services.

The Government decision of 22 April 2020 extended from two to three months the term of arrears on payment of housing and communal services to recipients of housing subsidies and benefits, in the case of which a housing subsidy is not assigned.

Initiatives for internally displaced persons have also been taken, specifically:

  • payment of social benefits (pensions, all types of social benefits and compensation, financial support, provision of social services, etc.) to internally displaced persons which were assigned before quarantine measures related to the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was continued,
  • it is forbidden to carry out checks on the actual place of residence / stay of internally displaced persons when assigning (renewing) social benefits.

The social protection of the insured citizens of Ukraine has been strengthened, in particular:

The list of insurance cases for which temporary disability assistance has been extended. Insured persons in health care facilities, as well as in self-isolation under medical supervision in connection with the activities aimed at preventing the emergence and spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) receive 50 percent of the average wage (income) regardless of the length of service (estimated number of recipients – 5.8  million).

For the quarantine period, the granting of the status of ‘unemployed person’ will take place immediately after the application is submitted, and the unemployment benefit will be granted from the first day after the registration.

Social protection for single elderly people is also strengthened. In particular, the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine has instructed regional state administrations to:

  • intensify the work on identifying and serving at home single persons and people living alone, assisting elderly and persons with disabilities in paying for housing services;
  • take measures to arrange visits to single persons and people living alone by workers of institutions of the social protection system for the care of them, deliver of medicines and food to them to secure the infection of elderly and persons with disabilities;
  • organize of constant monitoring of epidemic situation in institutions and establishments, strengthen of cooperation with territorial health care institutions.

In order to prevent infection of elderly people as well as persons with disabilities who reside permanently in residential institutions of the social protection system, the Ministry of Social Policy recommended to the regional state administrations:

  • to limit as much as possible visits to the caregivers and children by parents, legal representatives, relatives, other persons;
  • to provide daily temperature screening and enhanced health monitoring for caregivers, children and staff of institutions.

The Ministry of Social Policy, together with the National Network of Grocery Stores ATB, has started providing food kits to single persons and people living alone, aged over 80, elderly in need of care, and persons with disabilities.

For reference: during 2-3 weeks of April 2020, each region and Kyiv, was provided with food kits. The food kit included, in particular, salt, sugar, wheat grits, oat flakes, pasta, rice, oil, tea, cookies, lemon. About 527,621 citizens were provided with food kits.

In order to create conditions for the involvement of charitable, non-governmental organizations, businesses, and volunteers to assist single elderly people, persons with disabilities, families with children, including children with disabilities, an information platform “Dopomoga Poruch” (“Help is nearby”) is being created. This platform will be filled with information on the needs / applications of single elderly people, persons with disabilities, and families with children. The information will be provided by the structural units for social protection of the population of the oblast and the Kyiv city state administrations. The received applications will be processed by the executive bodies, local self-government bodies, charitable and public organizations, socially responsible businesses, and volunteers. On the information platform the relevant telephone numbers will be placed, in order to facilitate and coordinate the transfer of assistance from a specific business, charity, or public organization to the direct recipient of assistance.

In addition, public communications are being made by posting up-to-date information on changes in the social sphere on the official website of the Ministry of Social Policy (msp.gov.ua).

Ukraine: Major developments, new initiatives in the social sphere

The main focus in the field of social development in 2019 focused on the following tasks:

creating a supportive environment for persons with disabilities;
social support for families in difficult circumstances and other categories of population;
creation of conditions for providing a decent old age for the elderly, development of the pension insurance system;
ensuring the protection of children’s rights.

Major developments, new initiatives in social sphere of Ukraine (2019 – I quarter 2020)

Olena Tarasiuk, Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine

The main focus in the field of social development in 2019 focused on the following tasks:

  • creating a supportive environment for persons with disabilities;
  • social support for families in difficult circumstances and other categories of population;
  • creation of conditions for providing a decent old age for the elderly, development of the pension insurance system;
  • ensuring the protection of children’s rights.

There is a stable tendency to increase state social standards and cash incomes of citizens.

The Subsistence Minimum increased by 9.4 % in 2019, which is planned to further increase by 8 % during 2020. Meanwhile the increase of the average annual inflation rate was 4.1 % (December, 2019 to December, 2018). During January – March 2020 it was 100,7 %. In line with the increase in the Subsistence Minimum, the size of the basic state social guarantees determined on its basis was increased.

The Minimum Wage increased by 12.1 %. Since January 2020, the minimum wage is 4,723 UAH, which is 13.2 % higher than the value of 2019.

The average monthly salary in 2019 compared to 2018 increased by 16 % and amounted to UAH 12,264, which is by 2.9 higher than the Minimum Wage (4,173 UAH). The average monthly salary in March 2019 was 11,446 and it is by 11.8 % higher compared to the relevant month in preceding year, while real wages increased by 9.3%.

The average pension as of 01.01.2020 amounted to 3,083 UAH and it was by 16.5 % higher than the same day of 2019. As of 01.04.2020 it amounted to 3,170 UAH which is by 9.3 % exceeds the its size compared to 01.04.2019.

Nominal income of population in 2019 increased by 13.9 % compared to 2018. Available income, which can be used by the population for purchasing goods and services, increased by 14.9%, while the real available, determined on the basis of price factor, increased by 6.5%. Nominal income per capita amounted to 67,528 UAH in 2019 and it was higher by 15.5 % than in 2018.

Increasing income levels of all segments of the population contributed to the poverty reduction. The poverty rate in absolute criterion (incomes below the actual Subsistence Minimum) fell by 5 percentage points over the 9 months of 2019, up to 24.3% from 29.3% in the previous year.