x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Simple steps for a fair benefits system

A fair, well-run benefits system would improve the lives of the most vulnerable in Emirati society

A strength of UAE culture is the social ties that knit the community together: brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, all together to face adversity. This concept of an extended family has traditionally helped those who are unable to work because of illness, age or disability, as well as divorced and widowed women, and orphaned children.

As the country grows and, in many cases, these ties weaken, the government has stepped in to offer another form of support. The Ministry of Social Affairs offers benefits to those in need: Emiratis who are unable to work, or who remain unemployed; orphans, the elderly, widows; all are offered a form of support. It is an essential social safety net - when it works as is intended.

But as The National reported yesterday, the system is not working well, in part because of understaffing. There are no central records, payments are not clearly tracked, and often people who are unemployed are not offered training or informed of opportunities.

This isn't a problem caused by ill intent, nor does it require a complex solution. On the contrary, a centralised database should be easy to create. A more efficient system linked with other ministries would also help. And benefit payments should be reviewed annually to keep pace with inflation.

There is also a question of fairness: a recent FNC report concluded that support was not standardised - claimants often receive different support packages for similar hardships. That is not acceptable. Legitimate claimants should receive the same support according to their needs. Again, this is a matter of coordination as much as anything else.

In the case of jobless Emiratis, there needs to be closer coordination between the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education. Emiratisation is an issue for every branch of government. Rather than being left to fend for themselves, unemployed Emiratis must be offered comprehensive training and education that will help them in today's job market. We have long argued that Emiratisation is an issue of skills mismatch, which points to clear solutions.

The benefits system serves the most vulnerable in society. In the past, people could rely on the helping hands of the extended family. Today, the state must help to fulfil that role. The intention is clearly there, but more needs to be done to ensure that the safety net does not have holes.