Targeted social assistance is one of the most important forms of social security for disadvantaged families - not only in Azerbaijan, but in many developed and developing countries, as well. Although formalization of this right in Azerbaijan has previously suffered a great deal due to a corrupt system riddled with bureaucratic obstacles, the latest "reforms" of 2018 have “helped” citizens to lose any substantial benefit of this right to targeted assistance altogether.
Changes to the law on unemployment also affected targeted social assistance
Prior to the amendment to the Law on Targeted State Social Assistance, Article 3 stated that any household with an income below the identified state average was entitled to social assistance. This meant that if a family met any of the underlying criteria, including family members' inability to be employed, death, disappearance or death confirmed by the court, imprisonment, uncertainty of the family member’s location, registered unemployment at relevant state employment center, and so on, then the family was considered disadvantaged and entitled to social assistance. Therefore, apart from unemployment allowance (which has since been abolished), a family was eligible for targeted social assistance to sustain their family members.
Because the law was amended on April 24, 2018, the term "unemployed" became restricted to persons who were registered as unemployed due to the cancellation of the state body or legal entity, or staff redundancy. This now means that those who are unemployed because of reasons dictated by law, must first get unemployment status from relevant state agencies before applying for targeted social assistance. Those who are unemployed for any other reason cannot claim targeted social assistance. Also, due to the replacement of unemployment benefits with insurance payments, targeted social assistance is now available only to a limited number of employees.
The amount of the need increased - by 13 manats?
The last month of 2018 was especially memorable because of the definition of need criteria and living standards for 2019. It should be noted that living standards, especially the need criterion, have a significant influence in determining the amount of targeted state social assistance. According to the Law on the Needs Limit for 2019, the need criterion is set at 143 manats. While it is true that the sum was increased by 13 AZN on the previous year (130 manats), given the fact that low-income families applying for targeted social assistance in Azerbaijan usually include two or more family units, the figure is, of course, very low against the backdrop of today's market prices.
How relevant are the changes to international commitments?
The international commitments of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the field of human rights also include social security and insurance. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, as well as Article 38 of the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan, stipulates that everyone has the right to social security. Article 10 of the International Covenant also imposes certain obligations on the State, including the protection of family and children including social protection. Looking at these provisions, one can consider Azerbaijan's targeted state social assistance program a successful step. In reality, however, limitations imposed on social assistance and difficulties in the execution of social benefits do not spell success.
Citizens who have lost their jobs due to other factors besides stipulations in law are deemed ineligible for targeted social assistance, which unreasonably deprives these people of protection. Reasons for unemployment should not be a factor in determining eligibility for targeted social assistance, because there should not be a difference between unemployed people based on their monthly needs. Moreover, how can one differentiate citizens who have been let go due to cutbacks in their company from the ones who have been fired by company management and/or never worked from the ones who are job hunting now? Needless to say, the level of need is even greater for those who are unemployed or looking for a job. In summation, the change divides unemployed citizens into certain categories, narrows the scope of targeted social assistance, and violates the right to equality under Article 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of Azerbaijan.
According to the Unemployment Insurance Law, unemployment benefits are calculated based on premiums accumulated in advance. That is to say, employees make insurance payments to secure the risk of dismissal due to any reason determined by the legislation, and if these circumstances are justified, then they are eligible to receive insurance payments. In targeted social assistance, the situation is quite different. Citizens who intend to receive targeted state social assistance are subject to discrimination because they have not made any advance payment towards insuring themselves, and the sole reason behind this unfairness is the change in legislation.
Additionally, the insignificant increase in the need criterion and living minimum, as well as non-compliance with the living standards in the country, is a breach of the right to adequate living conditions, as provided in the Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. More precisely, the living minimum and need criterion that is pegged below the minimum required for adequate living conditions in the country means that the state is not fulfilling its commitments. The provision of targeted state social assistance that is not meeting the living standards in the country and is given to disadvantaged families under discriminatory practices and consideration of unnecessary differences between the unemployed are an indication of the disadvantages of the new system.