x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Planning now will serve the future

The challenge for the nation is to ensure the next generations enjoy the same high standards of living.

The role of any government is to support its people. By any measure, the government of the UAE has been very successful on that front, something reflected in the fact that Emiratis enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. An essential component of the state’s responsibility to its citizens is to provide a welfare safety net, so that those who cannot support themselves have their needs provided for. Again, the UAE is doing its bit – but, perhaps, in some cases, it may be doing too much.

As The National reported yesterday, the Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi, has told the Government Summit in Dubai that unemployed Emiratis who are fit and able to work should stop relying on state welfare. She said that some of the nation’s 92,500 benefits recipients refused to work even though the jobs that were available to them would have paid them more than their state assistance.

There is no doubt that the UAE is a wealthy nation, thanks to its oil reserves. But oil is a finite resource, and the demand for it is not guaranteed to continue at today’s levels, so the government has been pursuing policies to diversify the economy. With this diversification come new jobs and opportunities for citizens to engage in the project of nation-building. The government is essentially saying: we cannot do it all alone; everyone who is able to do so should participate.

Nobody is talking about taking welfare away from those who really need it: people with disabilities, the elderly, widows, orphans, divorcees, abandoned women and those unemployed who cannot find suitable work. But the question is whether there is a mechanism by which people who are receiving benefits but are able to work can be weaned off state support and encouraged to join the workforce. It is a sensitive issue and, as Ms Al Roumi noted, a previous decision to reduce the amount paid to those who refused job-orientated training was overturned after the public urged the government to change its mind.

It would seem reasonable to ask that all people who can do so make a fair contribution to the nation. Among the strategies the Social Affairs ministry might consider in reviewing the relevant law is providing extra funding and other assistance, in the short term, to those who are genuinely seeking work. The aim is to ensure that future generations of Emiratis can enjoy the same high standard of living as this generation.