The Cedar Foundation and 55 other civil society organizations* sent an open letter to Bulgaria’s national representatives and the media, in which we express our outrage at the fact that— yet again— legislation that has been unanimously approved in the National Assembly has been the target of a brusque and unprincipled interference attempt. Moreover, on July 14, 2020, the Constitutional Court declared the Social Services Act as congruent with the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria and affirmed the right of non-governmental organizations to participate in the creation and implementation of national policy, including by providing social services, as a fundamental principle of a democracy.
The Social Services Act resolves much of the current imperfections in the social protection system. The Act is wholly compliant with the Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria, follows the best European practices, and is consistent with the specifics of the Bulgarian context and its needs. The deliberation and composition stages of the legislative process were given ample time and a number of public discussions took place before its submission to the National Assembly. This process guarantees that its novel provisions are well-founded and that they do not serve anyone’s personal interest but—instead— that they are the product of a discussion with all the relevant stakeholders and a representation of their views. The Social Services Act reflects the expertise of the best professionals in the social sector and builds on all the successful models and pilot practices in Bulgaria. What is the argument for making rushed amendments to the Act, which would clearly be detrimental to the support of children, families, elderly people, and people with disabilities— in just three days?
The proposed amendments are not supported by any substantial arguments that they would improve people’s lives and are bereft of a real evaluation of their impact. What is more, they reflect a complete lack of understanding of the lived reality of a substantial part of the Bulgarians who need social services. An illustrative example of this is the section which characterizes social services as non-commercial activities, something which has already been regulated in other legislative texts. On the other hand, in everyday practice there is no clearer illustration of this than a child’s daily food budget in some of the social services which amounts to 1.67 Bulgarian leva. The notion that this budget would allow the social service provider any semblance of profit is exceedingly curious. Another proposition concerns the regulation of the outsourcing of social services when the relevant municipality is ´unable’ to provide them but the proposal does not specify what this might mean. What is the rationale behind this suggestion, given that in practice civil society organizations have increased the support for the people they work with by more than 50%? For example, they give children who have lived through severe abuse the opportunity to visit the seaside—something that the state does not provide.
At the time of writing, tens of opinions and positions have been submitted by organizations whose mission and work is to support vulnerable Bulgarians as well as by people for whom social services are often fundamentally important to their ability to lead a dignified life. It remains unclear if national representatives have taken an interest in them or if they have yet again succumbed to populist pressures without examining the processes in question and the consequences of their actions and decisions.
As citizens of Bulgaria and civil society organizations of parents, people with disabilities and professionals working in support of hundreds of thousands of children, families and elderly people, we ask:
- How much longer will the concerns and vulnerabilities of people be used for political gain?
- How much longer will national representatives neglect taking the real and necessary steps for solving the national social problems and for guaranteeing people’s rights?
- How much longer will children and families be ruthlessly used for gaining an edge in political struggles and for serving ambiguous goals?
The actions that have been taken in the last 18 months have left the impression that the national representatives have no interest in the real problems of people in difficult life situations for whom the repercussions of limiting access to timely and quality support would be the most severe.
Leaving people’s lives to be decided by ill-advised and unmotivated propositions is unacceptable. Yet this is precisely what will happen if the political games surrounding the Social Services Act are allowed to continue.
*Civil Society Organizations who have expressed support to the above letter:
- Maria’s World Foundation
- Bulgarian Center for Not-for-profit Law
- National Network for Children
- Bulgarian Association for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities
- Association “Civil Initiatives” Lovech
- Health And Social Development Foundation
- Community Institute for Social Services Foundation
- Give a Smile Dimitrovgrad Foundation
- Sun for Our Kids Foundation
- Humanity and Longevity Ltd.
- For Our Children Foundation
- Bridges Foundation
- Concordia Bulgaria Foundation
- Future for the Children Association
- Egida Association- Pazardzhik
- Tulip Foundation
- Worldwide Orphans Organization
- The Cedar Foundation
- Hope and Homes for Children– Bulgaria
- International Services Agency – Bulgaria
- Deaf Kids Power Foundation
- FICE- Bulgaria
- Animus Association Foundation
- Lumos Foundation – Bulgaria
- Zakrila Association – Lovech
- Raliz-Baliz Foundation
- Regional Society for the Support of Persons with Mental Disabilities
- Chance Association – Rouse
- Parallel World Association
- Association for the Support of Persons with Mental Disabilities
- Equilibrium Association
- St. Nikolay Foundation
- Future for Everyone Foundation
- Not-for-profit Association “Trust Me” – Samokov
- Knowledge Association – Lovech
- Alternatives2017 Association
- Family Center- Maria Association
- Global Initiative in Psychiatry – Sofia
- Mission Wings Foundation
- Choice Association – Bansko
- St Ivan Rilski Association – Burgas
- Hope for a Better Future Association – Silistra
- BALIZ Velingrad
- Future and Protection for people with Mental Disabilities
- Association – Gabrovo
- Association for mentally and psychologically disabled people – Dryanovo
- Future for Everyone Association – Montana
- BALIZ Pleven
- Innovation Association – Simitli
- Association Autism – Sofia
- Protection, Love and Faith Association – Targovishte
- Independent Life Association – Shumen
- Baliz Blagoevgrad
- Hope for the Little Ones Foundation
- Child and Space Association