I. GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS
1. Deep poverty should not be considered as a solely Roma problem. Of the nearly three quarter million people living in deep poverty in Hungary, only 250–300 thousand are of Roma descent. Looked at another way, of the estimated 700–800 thousand Roma, only an estimated 250–300 thousand live in deep poverty.
2. Social problems should not be classified according to race. We must differentiate more clearly between Roma and non-Roma issues. Exclusion should not necessarily, and in all cases be handled in isolation. The viewpoint of the Roma regarding education, employment, and health should appear in the general social and economical plan.
3. Economic necessities. Social acceptance of the Roma is not simply a moral responsibility, it is also an economic necessity. No alternative exists to the complete integration of the Roma – not out of considerations of charity but due to the well-established financial interests of the country. The estimated 700–800 thousand Roma population comprises the largest and most dynamically-growing minority in Hungary. While the majority of the rest of the population is rapidly ageing, the percentage of Roma is fast increasing. According to some forecasts, by the year 2050 the percentage of Roma in Hungary of working age will be greater than those of non-Roma background. For this reason, the successful social and economical integration of the Roma community is a key question for our country’s future.
4. Partnership, not paternalism. In the interest of true Roma integration, we must forego both the Socialist viewpoint, which is overly paternalistic, and the ethno-specific experimental solutions proposed by the Liberals. Neither approach was backed by real political will, professional expertise, or adequate financial conditions in the past twenty years. Only on the eve of elections did the Socialist-Liberal government engage in spectacular actions, targeted at the media and through them at the electorate. But these were little more than efforts to politicize the problems, while the situation of the Roma community slowly deteriorated.
5. A Change of Paradigm. In the past few years in Europe, there has been a paradigmatic shift towards an approach which concentrates on commercial and financial arguments rather than on anti-discrimination and human rights policies. We can notice a significant and positive viewpoint change in European politics: five years ago it was unthinkable for a European Union politician to devote this much attention to the Roma situation.
Profitable investment, which is necessary for a Roma child to complete high school, is amply compensated by her or his later contribution to the national budget; that investment, however, does not in itself guarantee future success. We can observe a 20 per cent success ratio. In other words, every fifth child can compensate for the failures of the previous four. As the Roma become more productive and the poverty that they suffer from decreases, they can become active and contributing members of society instead of remaining a group that depends on welfare and public support. The decreased expenditures and support paid from public funds can result in a net profit for the national budget.
Early development is decisive – experiences at kindergarten affect their whole lives, and is essential for those children in particular who are less inspired to study in their home environment. Although the development and upkeep of one kindergarten space is rather expensive, the cost is much less than the aid given to mothers who stay at home, and the loss of income as a result of a failure to participate successfully in the labour market.
Streaming yes, segregation no. Segregation based solely on membership of an ethnic group contradicts not only the Constitution but also the rights granted by the European Union, and must be avoided at all costs. On the other hand, selection based on student development, intelligence, or ability (streaming) is an educational, not a human rights question. What is better for Roma, is not worse for the rest. In 2008, research published by Gábor Kézdi and Éva Surányi showed that adequate teaching support in mixed, integrated classes increases the achievement of Roma students without harming the results of children who are not of Roma descent. The social situation of the disadvantaged students improves in integrated classes, as the children learn as much from each other as from the teacher, while segregation makes this option impossible.
6. The health-visitor programme (follow-up home visits after birth by a health-care professional) must be completed, any lack of information should be addressed, and local councils must be forced to adhere to the prescribed laws. They should be made accountable for the services they are supposed to provide.
7. Respect for childcare professionals (health visitors, paediatricians, nurses, kindergarten teachers, etc.) should be strengthened, and socially (financially) acknowledged. For example:
• health visitors should be adequately compensated for more difficult work;
• transport support should be offered to health visitors who work in large communities.
8. Kindergarten should be available from the age of three, and should be mandatory from four (in case parents are reluctant to agree).
9. Where clear differences are identified, small groups can be established (either within larger groups or individually), which guarantee more time to teach children basic skills, and prevent children from slipping behind.
10. Kindergartens should be established in communities where none exist, and expanded where there is a lack of availability because of size.
11. Special groups are useful in elementary schools, even in the 5th and 6th grades, to prevent pupils slipping behind. Students can absorb the material to be learned, even before it is presented in class, and as a result the learning process is easier.
12. The flexible schooling process must be re-examined because of the distortions it can cause. For financial reasons, institutions are encouraged to keep school-age pupils in kindergarten (the more, the better) and it is also “profitable” for them to have problem children classified as retarded. This is completely unacceptable.
13. Elementary schools whose underprivileged pupils win places in high schools or whose graduating percentage is the same should be rewarded. High school instruction.
14. Trade schools and their teaching staff must find ways to prevent their institutions turning into dumping-grounds for low-achieving or less successful pupils after they complete elementary school.
15. Middle schools which teach all the way through to the school-leaving exam should ensure that scholarships are available for underprivileged students who wish to continue their education.
16. The Ministry of Education should establish innovative and flexible grants which nurture talent, while existing grants should receive increased support.
Higher education and the role of educated Roma
17. Aid mechanisms (scholarships, mentor support, etc.) should be established for young Roma, to inspire them not only to obtain diplomas, but also to enrol in higher education establishments. A system of perks should also be considered, which would increase the participation of Roma youth in such institutions and improve their qualifications.
18. A new type of scholarship program should be developed to ensure the highest quality instruction for Roma students, in order to educate a new generation of Roma leaders.
19. Ways must be found to convince better-off Roma not only to seek and obtain the necessary tools for enriching themselves, but also to develop a sense of philanthropy, in order to:
• help increase the standard of living of their own communities through their professional knowledge, their network of acquaintances, and their experience;
• act as a role model for their community, share their experiences and explain how to make social progress and pursue happiness;
• train new generations, smooth the road ahead of them, and prepare them for the challenges of the modern world, and
• assume a leadership role in as many areas as possible, especially in community life; not necessarily as politicians, but rather as organizers, teachers, entrepreneurs, or in other roles.
The dilemmas of integrated teaching
20. In individual cases, problems at home can be projected into schools (over-age or aggressive pupils) and cause problems with integration. As a result, individuals can be isolated, and schools may give up their attempts to encourage such pupils to attend, because they disrupt the rest of the class. In such cases, the school and its supervisory board must find alternative channels to help the student complete her or his schooling, with all the long-term work benefits which would result.
21. The classification of private student must in all cases be officially documented.
22. The migration of non-Roma students from schools (to schools with a lower proportion of Roma pupils) cannot be prohibited, but it should be curtailed. For example, the additional costs of school attendance outside of the district must be paid by the family, while those attending local schools can take advantage of general aid.
23. Teachers who teach underprivileged students should be financially rewarded, accordingly.
The vast majority of the Roma community suffers from general unemployment on an unacceptable scale: the percentage of the long-term unemployed in some areas of Hungary reaches 70%. While the expansion of Roma employment figures high in employment policy plans, these are often poorly executed or outdated. The resulting failure to integrate the Roma in the work-force is a loss for the wider community, and the whole country.
The main reason for the low employment of Roma is the lack of proper education. Besides training, however, there are many other factors that create such large scale unemployment:
a) disadvantages – the majority of Hungarian Roma live in doomed, small village areas;
b) isolation – distinction according to ethnic affiliation constitutes racial discrimination;
c) the demise of the former Communist economic structure – elevated sections of the planned economy (construction, mining, heavy industry) went bankrupt; the areas which employed a large proportion of the Roma work force disappeared;
d) the demand for a new type of work force – modern, market-oriented employers show greater interest in a trained, highly qualified work force;
e) hurdles to self-employment – inadequate capital, and the absence of entrepreneurial experience and know-how, hamper the establishment of Roma-owned companies;
f) the poverty trap – in the current system, the needs of the combined family income make it more beneficial to stay at home since the social aid in certain instances exceeds the attainable wage under the given conditions;
24. The category of those receiving welfare support should be kept separate from the category of those receiving support through the different tools of employment policy.
25. In the interest of the increased employment of disadvantaged groups, and specifically of the Roma, employers must take a stand against all forms of discrimination.
26. A combined employment and welfare system should be devised, which encourages a person to be pro-active, and which is capable of handling the disadvantages stemming from unemployment and social circumstances on an individual basis.
27. Tax benefits and incentives should be given to employers who provide placement possibilities for Roma (this can not be considered ethnic “labelling” since it offsets discrimination).
28. During the revision of the tax system, we must specifically decrease the taxes and benefits related to employment, in order to increase the flexibility of those seeking work.
29. Increased aid should be given to small and medium sized companies, and micro-companies, which employ about three quarters of the available work force, to generate more jobs.
30. The social contributions payable by employers who employ underprivileged labour should be decreased.
31. Employers should be given a financial incentive to employ more Roma labour. For example by increasing their competitiveness through easier access to loans, or even by amendments to the laws on public procurement.
32. An employment incubator system needs to be developed, which would bring together county and small district land development organizations, local councils, employment centres, and all relevant foundations. In conjunction with this, entrepreneurial training should be given.
33. Everyone must be given the lifelong opportunity to participate in adult education, with a view to improving their prospects on the labour market.
34. We need reliable statistics on ethnic background, in contrast to the current negative figures related just to unemployment. It would be helpful to know more about those who employ Roma from different age, educational and skill backgrounds, with a view to better understanding what criteria enable certain companies to absorb and keep Roma labour.
This should be ascertained already at the political planning level.
35. The education system must be more effective in guaranteeing the attainment of those skills which are actively sought on the labour market.
36. A system must be developed which enables the lowest segments of society, and those sections most likely to drop out, to gain access to grants, in particular to those which deal with creating workplaces, social participation, community planning, education planning, and equal opportunity grant programmes.
37. We must guarantee the possibility for those living on welfare and the needy, to be able to receive interest free, quick loans from an independent fund which could in part be financed by the central budget.
38. We must devise a plan that regulates the laws so that those who are unable to acquire bank loans through regular means because of the danger of high risks, low returns, and the possibility of non-execution, can also get access to micro loans.
39. We must expand the circle of those offering micro loans. By doing so, we will create the possibility that micro loans are not the exclusive domain of organizations that possess bank approval. With this in mind, it would be useful to consider the possibility of micro-loans provided by banks, and a reduction in the administrative burdens placed on credit organisations.
40. We must guarantee that the person receiving credit, especially the founders of micro organizations, have the possibility to receive the widest circle of business support including training, advice, financial training, etc.
41. We need to create the post of family bankruptcy commissioner (as initiated in Parliament by the Christian Democrats). The purpose of this body would be to ensure that if a family becomes insolvent, their interests could be protected by a bankruptcy commissioner, appointed by the courts. Welfare support makes better financial sense than the impoverishment and permanent disappearance from the work-forze of so many families.
42. We must establish basic services for each village, and a system to oversee isolated homesteads, and those settlements which lack elementary infrastructure in rural areas.
43. We must further develop the transport infrastructure to help people to travel in search of work.
IV. SETTLEMENT LIQUIDATION AND PUBLIC HEALTH
44. The number of people living in slums has decreased over the past few years. It would be sensible not to destroy all such settlements, but rather to renovate them, to provide public utilities, and thereby to reduce the degree of isolation.
45. The elimination and/or development of the slums must be undertaken by both the central authorities and the local governments, in order to provide humane living conditions and to unequivocally respect the human rights of the affected Roma.
46. In the health field, everyone must have access to preventive screening and rehabilitation procedures.
47. It must be mandatory and obvious for the public health organizations to provide information regarding the rights of the sick.
48. The everday acts of discrimination in public healthcare, especially affecting women, must end. All breaches of human rights, such as the isolation of Roma mothers in maternity wards, must be investigated.
V. COMPLEX DEVELOPMENT AND CRISIS MAPPING
Doomed regions – those areas where the most serious social and economic disadvantages are concentrated, present a serious problem for the entire community: the large city population in need of welfare is constantly replenished by the poor, who arrive from the neighbouring regions. This in turn swells the numbers of squatters, homeless people, day labourers, and beggars, and sharpens social and economic tensions which affect the entire community. The closing of local post offices, and the reduction or elimination of train and bus routes, dooms certain small villages: more than half of all underprivileged Roma live in such small settlements.
Severe poverty is concentrated in certain geographic regions. Surveys of specific disadvantages (low schooling, unemployment, life expectancy, etc.) result in largely overlapping maps which illustrate the extent of poverty. We can follow the development of these types of connected areas in the Cserehát and Ormánság regions, for example, and there are similar developments in the north-eastern and southern districts of the country. Here the population of small villages are not only in a trap, but in a poverty spiral. In such areas, even maintaining the current terrible quality of life uses up a great deal of money. The lack of a solution to this situation can, in the long run, paralyze the budget and possibly cause considerable tension.
”Invisible” sub-regions. Resources for the development of disadvantaged sub-regions come from isolated sources. These could be decisive for the given sub-regions or for combinations of them, but as such, these do not exist on a European level. According to the goals prescribed by the Structural Development Plan of the European Union, those regions should be developed in which the value of the GDP purchasing power – measured by parity and per capita – falls below the Union average of 75%; as well as those regions which are struggling to carry out a structural transformation. These goals are given for those classified as II or III territories, according to the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS), while those classified as IV territories according to NUTS fall under the jurisdiction of the member states’ small region development plan. This is the case, regardless of how much they differ from the regional average, as set by the strategic reference borders (in this case the New Hungary Development Plan). So the national government will decide if it considers them a priority or not. “Fire extinguishing” type, complex programmes. Regions which are subject to many disadvantages, and are in danger of turning into ghettos, require immediate, well-funded solutions which are able to address problems individually and jointly and quickly. Inter-regional undeveloped areas which appear like sudden abysses of poverty hinder the progress of the entire society. This situation is similar to the remodelling of a building: gaping cracks and holes in the walls must first be filled, and only then can we start the total reconstruction. Such extremely expensive and highly complex development is still less expensive than if the problem multiplies and the whole building collapses.
49. Crisis areas that require immediate action need to be identified, mapped, and their problems identified.
50. Specific development resources on a European scale need to be identified within the most disadvantaged small regions classified as NUTS IV areas within the Structural Fund.
51. Complete transparency is necessary in the way in which both the Structural and Cohesion Funds of the EU, and development grants sponsored from the national budget, are used in order to ensure the biggest possible allocation of resources.
52. Resources should be targeted according to the needs of smaller geographical units belonging to a larger statistical region, and not distributed widely according to the “lawnmower” concept.
53. A region-specific welfare system should be considered, according to which aid would be distributed only to those areas which really need it, as indicated on the crisis map.
54. Besides the current experimental type (pilot) local programmes, larger scale, infrastructural and instructional programmes should be merged. Programmes to regenerate the infrastructure and transport possibilities of communities should be merged with regional operative programmes.
55. New homes need to be built close to workplaces, rather than in the older, ghetto-type settlements. At the same time, it is essential that teaching in kindergartens, elementary and high schools is protected and improved.
56. Urgent construction and refurbishing of roads and utilities is necessary, alongside an intensive and comprehensive infrastructure development (drainage system, electric system, provision of electrical and gas supplies).
57. A vast governmental wage subsidy programme is necessary to decrease the taxes paid by employers in crisis areas, in order to encourage employers to create workplaces.
58. Ways need to be found to compensate employers for the additional expenses they encounter, as a result of operating beyond the economic mainstream, and doing business in ‘hidden’ regions.
59. In small regions where this possibility exists, special aid should be given to those agricultural companies which create workplaces, to family firms, and small farming businesses.
60. We must consider the alternative use of rural wastelands and abandoned farmlands, with a view to developing their potential for eco-tourism, and/or in connection with renewable energy investment and development.