A new law on social services: to whom, who and how

Help with unemployment, loss of loved ones, inability to care for yourself due to a serious illness or disability...

These are social services – a set of activities provided to a person who has fallen into difficult life circumstances and cannot overcome them on its own.

At the end of March 2017, the MPs voted in the first reading for the draft law on social services, which, if passed, would directly affect the lives of people caught in difficult life circumstances.

In recent years, the practice of providing social services required the improvement of the existing legislative framework.

In particular, we are talking about the introduction of social order, changing the financing system, providing social assistance in the amalgamated territorial communities, improving the contractual relationship between suppliers and recipients of services, and many other issues.

All these issues need to be addressed in the new law.

The proposed draft law, first of all, has a "systematising" character – starting with the identification of suppliers and beneficiaries of social services in the order of their provision, monitoring and quality control.

Most of the rules are spelled out more clearly than in the previous act. At the same time, problem areas remain. Let us examine them.

GUARANTEES FOR THE PROVISION OF SOCIAL SERVICES

The provision of social services starts with the identification of all who need them – people with disabilities and those who have lost physical activity, have incurable diseases, mental disorders and a number of other categories.

All those found out the need to be entered in the appropriate register while determining the list of services that should be provided to each person.

In total, there are about 60 types of social services, including cleaning, feeding, bathing, support in movement and up to writing letters.

Obviously, the function of detecting and conducting a kind of "passportization" should be highlighted in the legislative mechanism for providing services as one of the main ones.

Unfortunately, the draft of the new law does not define a specific subject as a single person responsible for the registration of all beneficiaries of social services.

The task of determining the needs of the population applies immediately to three instances – local authorities (district state administrations), local governments (communities) and providers of social services.

And here, "the more nannies", the greater problems with the "eye", that is, without a single responsible work to achieve quality results in this area.

As for the district administrations responsible for managing social protection, it is unlikely to effectively assign this function to a district official, as this requires constant visits to places of residence, including residential areas and remote villages.

It would be more logical to entrust raions to conduct inspection and monitoring, work with complaints of citizens.

In terms of providing services, among which, the percentage of private institutions will continue to grow, it is doubtful that they will be interested in identifying all those in need.

Among the clients, there are a large number of very sick people, those who found themselves in extremely difficult circumstances and most of them very poor. Serving these people to private service providers may simply be disadvantageous from a financial point of view.

The mission of suppliers is to provide social services, and not to find those in need. However, the draft law not only instructs them to identify those in need but also maintain a register of beneficiaries of social services.

At the same time, the draft law does not stipulate any responsibility for the fact that someone in need will be forgotten or for some reason will not be included in the relevant register.

Considering this, it is necessary to entrust an important case of identifying needy social services to local authorities, first of all – to territorial communities.

They are closest to the population, they can better study all the circumstances and the influence of various factors. It is logical that it is these organs that show people who need social services, and also maintain their register.

The register of beneficiaries of social services should be a document of strict accountability because people's fates are behind it.

Moreover, in each community there is a post for a specialist in social work who, after the law on service in local self-government comes into force, will receive the status and level of responsibility identical to civil servants.

LONG-SUFFERING SOCIAL ORDER

For many years in Ukraine, there has been a discussion about the participation of public and private organisations in the provision of social services.

To fully implement this, it is necessary to introduce a mechanism of social order by declaring by local administrations or local government bodies of a tender for the provision of social services at the expense of budgetary funds.

Unfortunately, despite active conversations on this topic, their result is purely symbolic. Last year the social order was introduced only in four oblasts, and its volumes did not exceed UAH 1 million.

The draft of the new law does little to "move forward" on this issue.

The draft law does not introduce distinctions and preferences for forms of ownership. It seems that all organisations are equal in the right to receive a social order: public, private, state and municipal.

The lack of linkage only to the non-state sector puts public and private organisations in an unequal position.

It is clear that municipal institutions will be guaranteed to have budgetary support and advantages over private institutions in the absence of market infrastructure in this area.

To ensure that a social order is provided on a real competitive basis, it is necessary to ensure absolute equality of service providers – state, municipal, private, public, religious, individuals, etc.

This is possible only under two conditions: the autonomization of public utilities and the provision of equal conditions for all organisations regardless of the form of ownership.

For this, it is necessary that communal social institutions receive the status of communal enterprises and be financed through the real provision of social services.

Today, the lion's share of budgetary resources is directed to the maintenance of institutions, regardless of the quality of service provision.

Until a system of equal opportunities is created for all categories of suppliers, the draft law should provide for the quoting of certain volumes of the social order, primarily its funding exclusively for non-state institutions.

QUALITATIVE SELECTION OF SOCIAL SERVICE PROVIDERS

The market of social services in Ukraine is actively being formed. There are a large number of private companies, cooperatives, public organisations ready to provide such services.

For them, the draft law provides for an almost application principle on obtaining the status of a provider of social services.

In addition to formal attributes, such as the statute, education data, medical books, the absence of tax arrears, a rented premises with an eating room. For those who wish to provide social services, neither testing, nor justifying their future activities, nor checking previous experience and feedback on activities are envisaged.

This approach is hardly justified now because we are talking about very unprotected layers of the population.

There is a threat that with such a simplified approach, among the suppliers there can be firms with the desire to only earn on the problems of other people, not to mention scammers and other intruders.

Therefore, it is necessary to provide for the verification of those who want to provide social services, as well as to establish a probationary period and issue a certificate only if there are positive feedback from the clients.

It is interesting that the draft law does not provide for the possibility of local self-government bodies, in particular, the amalgamated territorial communities, to monitor the quality of social services provisionally, to examine citizens' complaints against service providers and react promptly to them.

This function is transferred exclusively to the raions.

However, for a person with special needs to go to the district centre to write a complaint, it can be a big challenge.

THE SCOPE OF SOCIAL SERVICES PROVISION

Unfortunately, when reading the draft law, it is difficult to fold a puzzle about how a package of social services should be formed, including the types, volumes and features of their provision.

In this case, the individual plan for the provision of social services, the minimum basic package of social services and the contract for the provision of social services should be fundamental.

It is clear that a contract must be the end point.

However, the question of what place should take an individual plan. This plan must be drafted and approved by a social worker, who represents the local government body.

It is logical that the individual plan should be an integral part of the contract, and the grantor should be guided by it and cannot retreat from it.

Unfortunately, the draft law transfers this individual plan in fact into the status of an advisory document, since it is noted that this plan can be an annexe to the contract.

That is, it may not be such an annexe?

Then it can be ignored when concluding an agreement between the provider and the recipient of the service.

In this situation, one who needs services, that is, a person in a difficult life situation is one-on-one with the provider – organisation, which has considerable experience with clients, can persuade and even to press.

When concluding a contract, the provider can "twist arms", and the recipients of social services will have to agree to receipt a limited amount of assistance.

To avoid such a situation, it is necessary that a representative of the local government establish a minimum basic social service package for each category of people who need them.

On the basis of such a minimum, an individual plan must be developed, which will be an obligatory component of the contract.

SOCIAL SERVICES AND HEALTH CARE

In the draft law, there are no norms regulating the provision of social services in medical institutions.

In the document, there is no connection at all between the social and medical spheres.

At the same time, the world practice testifies to the functioning of such types of institutions as socio-medical or medico-social centres, in which the provision of medical and social services is combined. These are the so-called nursing centres and social care hospitals.

The draft law should define the legal basis for the optimal combination of medical and social assistance, the functioning and creation of socio-medical institutions.

This is especially important, given that, according to Ukrainian legislation, only healthcare institutions that have the necessary licenses and accreditations can provide medical assistance.

Thus, the institutions of the social sphere are in fact deprived of the opportunity to provide even basic medical care – to vaccinate, massage, put droppers, not to mention surgery and prescribing medications.

The law should help optimally combine these very related kinds of assistance.

MONEY WILL NOT "FOLLOW THE PERSON"

Unfortunately, with regard to the financing of social services, the draft law does not introduce real reformist innovations. In fact, all available sources of financing are listed.

However, it is fairly clearly indicated who can be guaranteed free social assistance, depending on the level of income of this person.

According to the current legislation, an institution that provides social services is being funded, and not a specific person who requires social assistance.

There is another principle of financing in most countries – for everyone who needs social assistance, depending on the degree of a person's ability to perform basic life functions, the amount of budgetary support is being set.

Further, the procedure is being applied when a person or its family decides independently where exactly these funds should be directed. That is money allocated for the social service of a person, "follows" it.

If a person is at home under the supervision of the family, then they transfer the funds to the person or the family, depending on their legal capacity.

If the person is in the house of social assistance – boarding house, boarding school, hospice, the funds will be transferred to the accounts of such institutions.

If a guardian cares of the incapacitated person, by agreement with it or its family, the funds will be transferred to the guardian for the services provided.

If the person is in a hospital facility, the funds are being transferred there.

If there is an agreement with the service company, the funds are being transferred to its account.

That is, the principle of payment for specific services is the principle "money follows the person". Unfortunately, this approach is not envisaged in this draft law at all.

AUTONOMIZATION OF SOCIAL SPHERE INSTITUTIONS

The draft law almost completely lacks a section on the legal status of municipal institutions providing social assistance.

Now, these institutions are in the status of a budgetary institution and are not independent business entities, in particular, they cannot open bank accounts, independently conduct personnel and procurement policies, manage their incomes.

It should be emphasised that autonomization be already being implemented both at the legislative and practical levels in other branches of the social sphere, in particular, health care or education.

Why should the law not provide a mechanism for changing the status of institutions providing social services, for example, to communal enterprises?

This will allow taking full responsibility for their financial and economic activities, managing revenues and expenses, and being interested in the independent struggle for quantitative and qualitative customer service.

Getting a full status of a business entity will ensure normal competition between all providers of services – private, state, communal and public.

Also, in such conditions, full-fledged market mechanisms for obtaining a social order can be introduced.


Marianna Onufryk, Chief of Social Programs of ISER
Igor Yakovenko, Scientific Consultant of ISER

(This article was published on the website Ukrainska Pravda: Zhytia on June 6, 2017)
Cover Photo: racorn/Depositphotos