In Latvia, Guaranteed minimal income level does not comply with the Constitution

In Latvia, Guaranteed minimal income level does not comply with the Constitution

The Constitutional Court concluded the guaranteed minimal income (GMI) level does not comply with the constitution. The legislator has not resolved the most important GMI-related issued, nor has the legislator outline the basic needs for which it is paid. The Constitutional Court also concluded there is no GMI level determination method.

Considering economic factors and other assumptions, the court decided the regulation in question is to be considered null and void as of 1 January 2021.

At a previous hearing the court listened to involved sides and held debates.

In his debate speech, the author of the complaint ombudsman Juris Jansons stressed that socially responsible state’s duty is letting residents have a decent life. Respectively, he believes social assistance should be enough to provide the minimum of a decent life – food, clothes, housing, medicine and education.

The ombudsman outlines that the existing GMI level – EUR 64 – is enough to purchase only two-thirds of monthly sustenance.

He also says the food packages are not able to ensure a healthy diet. Jansons did not agree with the opinion of Latvia’s Welfare Minister, who believes the GMI benefit goal is solely ensuring proper diet. He stresses that most people are forced to use this benefit to also cover housing costs.

The government’s representative told the court hat Latvia’s benefit system consists of three parts that secure requirements of Section 109 of the Constitution. She also stressed that person in need of additional assistance are provided with it. The representative also explained that the median household income is not evaluated based solely on official data – resident surveys are also used. She also asked the court to recognize the challenged norms as compliant with the Constitution.

As previously reported, at a previous hearing the ombudsman stressed the duty to provide residents with decent life also includes the duty of the state to provide social assistance. Social assistance should be the kind that would provide at least minimal pre-conditions for a decent life.

Respectively, the ombudsman believes the absolute minimum includes food, clothes, housing and medical assistance necessary to provide elementary survival for any person. This minimum should also include primary education. However, minimal pre-conditions for a person’s decent existence should not be interpreted only as ‘naked survival’, stressed Jansons.

The representative of the Cabinet of Ministers stressed that the largest portion of this absolute minimum is covered using other economic tools, including benefits and tax discounts. She also said GMI should not create a situation when GMI and minimal wage difference is so insignificant that it does not motivate people to look for jobs.

The case was commenced following a request from the ombudsman. The ombudsman believes the GMI level set by the Cabinet of Ministers does not reach the principle of a socially responsible country, does not ensure the protection of human dignity and does not implement the duty of the state outlined in Section 109 of the Constitution to provide residents with necessary social protection.

The ombudsman also said the Latvian government has not increased GMI for a long time to make sure it matches requirements of the Constitution.

The state has a duty to direct its policy towards equalization of social and monetary state, not enhancement of differences in these two areas.

Ombudsman’s Office head of Communication and International Cooperation Ruta Siliņa had previously said that the ombudsman outlined in his request that he had sent a letter to the government in April 2019. In it he stated that the Cabinet of Minister’s requirement regarding GMI level states the GMI level per capita is EUR 53 a month, which, according to the ombudsman does not meet Section 1 and Section 109 of the Constitution. He also asked the government to fix problems with legislation by 12 June and ensure the country’s GMI level meets the Constitution.

The ombudsman received a reply from the government. The response contained a joined answer both in relation to the ombudsman’s letter regarding raising guaranteed minimal income and to his letter regarding the poverty threshold. The ombudsman considers information detailed in the letter as yet more promises that do not differ from those given in previous years.

The ombudsman stated in the letter that he believes the government’s established GMI level, which does not secure even the basic needs, cannot possibly provide decent standard of living. Additionally, the ombudsman believes a situation when the rights of the poorest residents are ignored is unacceptable.

“The duty of a socially responsible country is providing a social assistance system that would provide residents a decent quality of life and allows residents to involve in society. Poverty creates the risk of social exclusion,” stresses Jansons.

It is the duty of the state to provide a decent quality of life, which is also reinforced by UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, explains the ombudsman. “These declarations dictate that every person has the right for decent quality of life, including diet, clothes, housing, medical care and social services needed to ensure their and their family’s health and welfare,” said Jansons.

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