After wide-ranging professional and public consultation on 9 November the public consultation process on the National Inclusion and Roma Strategy came to an end, and so it can soon be presented to Government – Zolt├ín Balog, Minister of State for Social Inclusion, announced at a regional seminar entitled ‘The long path of the National Roma Integration Strategies’ organised by the Ministry of Public Administration and Justice.

The discussion papers were prepared by the Ministry based on the Roma Inclusion Framework adopted in Brussels on 19 May 2011, and was presented for public debate at the inaugural session of Roma Coordination Council in September. The development of Roma national strategies in both Hungary and the EU are milestones in Roma integration policy, and this is one of the significant results of the Hungarian Presidency of the EU. Member States must prepare and present to the European Council their national Roma strategies by the end of the year. The Hungarian National Inclusion and Roma Strategy may be presented to the Government in November.

Social marginalisation derives greatly from circumstances related to poverty. In Hungary today the level of segregation and wholesale exclusion from significant areas of social life are very high, and this is a social problem with several effects on the state sector, social coexistence and sustainable economic development. Therefore  in pursuit of social inclusion on the one hand all means should be explored to end poverty and prevent its development, and on the other hand to reduce the significant disadvantages poverty brings.

Twenty years after the political transition of 1989/ 90, Hungarian society is face with the need for effective treatment of problems coming from poverty, or causing poverty. Statistics and studies prove that the situation of groups living on the edge of society in most extreme destitution is becoming permanent. Extreme situations and social differences and the development of social stereotypes,  and failure and disadvantage coming from all these and inherited through generations threaten the stability, sustainability and security of society as a whole. The lack of social cohesion, disintegration and segregation processes seen in specific areas – related to age, ethnicity, region, etc – also inhibit economic development.

As the government programme points out in many cases, the treatment of the problems of disadvantaged social groups have so far yielded very few results. This is especially true for areas that are (according to studies) the most determinant in terms of social difference. Employment among the social groups in the worst situation (long-term unemployment), the situation of the Roma, problems of underprivileged settlements and child poverty and creating opportunities for children are the areas where programmes and spectacular initiatives have been launched, but significant results for the affected groups have not be seen. Their situation, the depth of their poverty, their chances in life, their incomes and their social status have become worse and worse. Moreover inter-ethnic tensions which have shocked all Hungarian society have become more acute – sometimes even tragic.

The aims of the National Social Inclusion and Roma Strategy

The policy of inclusion defined in the National Social Inclusion and Roma Strategy is a comprehensive approach given by a new strategic and governmental framework that seeks to help social and regional cohesion in our country by synchronising policies and comprehensive interventions.

Its aim is to reduce the number of people living in poverty or social exclusion, the social disadvantage of underprivileged children, to weaken the tendency of inherited poverty and to reduce social differences between the Roma and non-Roma population.

A determining horizontal aim is – in terms of significant characteristics of social problems – to increase the prospects of the long-term unemployed of active age in the labour market; to reduce child poverty; to overcome socialisation and socio-cultural disadvantages; to reduce the remarkably high disadvantages of Roma women in education and the labour market; to moderate the decline of underprivileged regions and at the same time the social disadvantages coming from regional disadvantages.

Regarding the inclusion strategy earlier strategies are the ’Making things better for our Children‘ National Strategy, the Decade of Roma Integration Programme and the inclusion programme for the most underprivileged sub-regions.

The National Inclusion Strategy is more than a Roma strategy

The social problems seriously affecting the Roma not only impact on the Roma; therefore they cannot be addressed exclusively within the Roma population. This is exactly why the strategy for the improvement of social circumstances among the Roma must not only be aimed at the Roma.

Taking into consideration the fact that problems related to the Roma population are in many cases community-based, so should interventions be. Besides integration, the world of education and labour, the strengthening of the functioning and the integrative force of local societies could be the basis for a security which is essential for coexistence, but which is often missing nowadays.

The integrated social inclusion strategy is a framework strategy with a ten-year horizon. The comprehensive goals of this perspective are the same as the national poverty reduction strategy of Europe 2020. According to data for 2008, 28.3 per cent of the population (nearly 3 million people) live below the poverty line, and/or in jobless households and/or in deep material deprivation. By 2020 we intend to reduce this rate to 23 per cent. Accordingly, with the realisation of this strategy, in Hungary in 2020 there will be about half a million fewer people living in poverty and social exclusion.

Parenthood must not be a risk factor for poverty

To reach the goals drawn up in the strategy, responsible parenthood must be encouraged by financial benefits and broadened services for families with children. Effective measures must prevent parenthood from being a risk factor for poverty.

Early childhood (0-3 years) is significant for the rest of a person’s life, so access to good quality early childhood services for underprivileged children must be eased, and intersectoral cooperation (healthcare, education, child welfare and childcare) must be strengthened.

The capacities of child protection and welfare services that play important role in preventing the development of endangerment must be developed. Free catering must be extended to high school students in need, and the circle of those who receive free or discounted meals must be broadened.

Infrastructural nursery provision from 3 years of age must be created, the rate of school drop-out must be reduced, and those who drop out must be led back into education. To help underprivileged students (the Roma also) attend school successfully, scholarship programmes must be introduced. Pedagogical programmes for helping children catch up must be developed alongside whole-day-schools, elementary school colleges, employment of professional assistants and encouraging sport in free time.

Getting back to school and the labour market

This strategy intends to encourage the accomplishment of provisions of economy- and enterprise-development that may be effective in employment of underprivileged, low-skilled people, primarily in the open labour market in sectors with high labour demand, and with atypical employment forms.

In terms of accomplishing the employment goal of EU 2020 it is essential to help the most underprivileged – living in households with low employment – into the labour market. This effort is especially valid for the Roma, particularly in disadvantaged sub-regions.

Business development and investment programmes to support this effort are needed with combined utilisation of different financial schemes (micro-credit). The condition of a part of these schemes is the employment and training of low-skilled people, especially the Roma.

Within economic development programmes of the green economy type it is also important to employ underprivileged people, including the Roma. In public procurement enterprises employing underprivileged people, inclusion of the Roma must be preferred.

By spreading flexible forms of employment and encouraging legal employment the number of registered jobs must be increased, and the vulnerability of underprivileged employees must be reduced.

Informative and screening programmes contribute to improving quality of life

Programmes must be started to encourage the participation of public health screenings and the use of mobile screening stations. Campaigns for improvement of quality of life and health development are needed, particularly regarding children, people living in segregation and the most underprivileged sub-regions, including the Roma population. A priority target group is Roma women. They must be prepared primarily for conscious family planning, preventing early pregnancy and healthy pregnancy (e.g. adverse effects of smoking). The leaders of those affected, Roma self-governments and NGOs must be involved in the programmes; healthcare professionals must be involved in training.

Local, regional and provider cooperation must be deepened by creating primary care centres in sub-regions and praxis communities, strengthening the health visitor network, and by closer integration of church, civil and local government organisations practicing home nursing care, hospice and social care – with particular attention to the most underprivileged sub-regions.

In-kind support and debt management solutions can help housing

In-kind support must have priority when helping housing. Local governments need methodological help, and providers also must recognise their own interests. It is not enough to operate the system of supports. Achieving success is possible only by strengthening personal services. The success of these programmes is impossible without involving regional and settlement authorities. An important element of debt management is the spread of prepayment meters. Beside the development of debt management, further indebtedness must be prevented by informative reference and publicity. Debt management services must be made available for people living in small towns too.

Growing Roma civil society – evolving public opinion

Helping active participation, getting opportunities and commitment of the Roma and underprivileged people is a fundamental goal that has to be accomplished in decision-making, implementation and supervision; moreover on national, regional, local and European union levels. As a part of the process, the role of Roma civil society must be strengthened by encouraging the Roma to play civil and political roles, the capacity development of NGOs and by national, regional and local strengthening of the capacity of public administration. The Roma must be involved in all areas of public life. Their representations in different institutions, or local, national and European Union level elected bodies must be strengthened. All these give evidence for the long-term need of programmes providing higher education – and international – professional experience that help the success of young Roma people.

Campaigns aimed at public opinion could be important direct means of raising attention and forming approaches, just as training organised for workers in law enforcement, justice, public administration, healthcare, and social areas can help them develop routine practice free of discrimination.

(Ministry of Public Administration and Justice)