It Is Time to Stop Using the Support of the Most Vulnerable for Political Gain

It Is Time to Stop Using the Support of the Most Vulnerable for Political Gain
July 23, 2020 Адриана Гоцова

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:

  1. Maria’s World Foundation
  2. Bulgarian Center for Not-for-profit Law
  3. National Network for Children
  4. Bulgarian Association for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities
  5. Association “Civil Initiatives” Lovech
  6. Health And Social Development Foundation
  7. Community Institute for Social Services Foundation
  8. Give a Smile Dimitrovgrad Foundation
  9. Sun for Our Kids Foundation
  10. Humanity and Longevity Ltd.
  11. For Our Children Foundation
  12. Bridges Foundation
  13. Concordia Bulgaria Foundation
  14. Future for the Children Association
  15. Egida Association- Pazardzhik
  16. Tulip Foundation
  17. Worldwide Orphans Organization
  18. The Cedar Foundation
  19. Hope and Homes for Children– Bulgaria
  20. International Services Agency – Bulgaria
  21. Deaf Kids Power Foundation
  22. FICE- Bulgaria
  23. Animus Association Foundation
  24. Lumos Foundation – Bulgaria
  25. Zakrila Association – Lovech
  26. Raliz-Baliz Foundation
  27. Regional Society for the Support of Persons with Mental Disabilities
  28. Chance Association – Rouse
  29. Parallel World Association
  30. Association for the Support of Persons with Mental Disabilities
  31. Equilibrium Association
  32. St. Nikolay Foundation
  33. Future for Everyone Foundation
  34. Not-for-profit Association “Trust Me” – Samokov
  35. Knowledge Association – Lovech
  36. Alternatives2017 Association
  37. Family Center- Maria Association
  38. Global Initiative in Psychiatry – Sofia
  39. Mission Wings Foundation
  40. Choice Association – Bansko
  41. St Ivan Rilski Association – Burgas
  42. Hope for a Better Future Association – Silistra
  43. BALIZ Velingrad
  44. Future and Protection for people with Mental Disabilities
  45. Association – Gabrovo
  46. Association for mentally and psychologically disabled people – Dryanovo
  47. Future for Everyone Association – Montana
  48. BALIZ Pleven
  49. Innovation Association – Simitli
  50. Association Autism – Sofia
  51. Protection, Love and Faith Association – Targovishte
  52. Independent Life Association – Shumen
  53. Baliz Blagoevgrad
  54. Hope for the Little Ones Foundation
  55. Child and Space Association