On the Social Assistance’s Agency website, we are reading: “A project for BGN 65 million will provide integrated social and health services”. The website further explains that “the Social Assistance’s Agency (SAA) is a specific beneficiary under the Direct Alternative Grant Procedure” New Alternatives” under Priority Axis 2 “Poverty Reduction and Promotion of Social Exclusion” of the Operational Program “Development of Human’s Resources 2014-2020”.

I want to believe that ‘promoting social exclusion’ is a technical mistake, because everything else would be scandalous. As you know, “the devil is in the details.” The “old Alternatives” did not contribute much to the social inclusion of their users, but strengthened the status quo of care providers, both in time and in delivery. Therefore, with the naked eye can be seen that people with disabilities have not become more involved – how many of them we can see on the streets, in our workplace, in cinemas or theaters. To expect inclusion, through care and without any stimulating support for independent living, can be very difficult. Because the “old” Alternatives offered 4 hours day care, paid at BGN 2 per hour. The result: 21 340 people with permanent disabilities, including 2 177 children with permanent disabilities used the “personal assistant” service, provided by 20 185 personal assistants on an hourly basis. Most of these “assistants” are relatives of users and the “personal assistance” is simply viewed as money that complements the household budget without changing the life of the disabled person. Because the hourly rate of BGN 2 does not allow anyone – especially in the big cities of the country – to hire an assistant from the labor market. Thus, people are obligated to rely on the relative’s cost free support. The program funded with European Union funding, aims at “reducing poverty” – naturally, some $ 300- 400 a month to the family budget “reduces poverty” but does not change the quality of life! The beneficiaries, on the other hand, are many – tens of thousands and this amount looks satisfied in the reporting documents.

The “new” program “Alternatives” maintains most of the disadvantages of the “old” program except for the hourly rate. In the previous programming period the hourly rate was BGN 2, now is around BGN 3, and the hourly rate for medical care – on a basic level! – is increased to BGN 4. Nothing else has changed, because the capacity of the cohort of “experts” in the SAA is limited.

That is why “the error is true”.  We will continue to ‘reduce poverty’ by providing social assistance under different names. We will reduce the number of unemployed assistants (relatives or not) – in fact they became employed. And we will achieve  “promoting social exclusion”.