x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Benefits reduced for some claimants

The Ministry of Social Affairs has reduced benefit payments for some claimants, including some widows, to help reduce its budget shortfall.

Mariam al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs.
Mariam al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has reduced benefit payments for some claimants, including some widows, and new cases have been restricted in an effort to reduce the ministry's budget deficit. Such reductions have helped the ministry reduce its budget shortfall from Dh70 million (US$19m) last year, to Dh32m in 2008 said Mariam al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs, speaking to the Federal National Council yesterday.

"We have taken certain steps to reduce our deficit. A divorcee under age 35 now receives decreased benefits if she has no children and returns to her father's house," she said. "What we're also trying to do is make equal the number of terminated cases and new enrolments. That's how we're able to reduce the deficit." The ministry provides social services and financial aid to divorcees, widows, families of jailed heads of household, the elderly and the disabled. Only nationals are eligible for social aid, except in cases where a non-national divorcee or widow has national children.

In 2008 there were 2,543 cases re-enrolled for financial aid, with around 200 new cases, an amount equal to the number terminated due to death or change of status. Cases that do not demonstrate a dire need for immediate help were postponed. Afra al Basti, the head of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, which falls under the ministry, said only a couple of applications for benefits have been denied so far due to legal issues.

"In those cases, the divorce is still not final or something is still held up in court. Other than that, we haven't had any cases turned down," she said. She added that she did not expect any cuts in benefits for the cases she submits to the ministry. The ministry's budget deficit follows a doubling in payments after the ministry's budget itself increased to Dh2.2 billion to reflect an overdue inflationary adjustment, Ms al Roumi said.

The ministry also runs programmes that benefit up to 37,000 families, including the exemption from electricity bills and the granting of shares in companies to boost annual fixed income. The ministry is also in charge of juvenile delinquents, and during the FNC session the minister was questioned on the reasons behind putting young offenders who are non-national into a separate detention facility and denying them access to programmes available to nationals.

In the past all delinquents were placed together in a detention facility and subject to all reformative programmes available. Ms al Roumi said the separation was due to language and cultural barriers, and that non-nationals normally committed more serious crimes. She added that Arabic speaking non-nationals are included with nationals. "With our programmes it would be difficult to apply them to non-nationals because everything is taught in Arabic. Even with the rehabilitation courses, it's very difficult. The language and cultural divide prevents non-national delinquents becoming engaged with the rehabilitation process," she said.

"All researchers and social workers are Emirati, and it's difficult to hire Pakistanis or Indians or Russians to overcome the language barrier." Up to 90 per cent of delinquents are non-nationals in some parts of the country, and major crimes are usually committed by Pakistani youth. Russian delinquency is also on the rise, according to Ms al Roumi. Many of the crimes are related to drugs. "National delinquents are much more likely to have committed crimes such as stealing their father's car or running away. But crimes of non-nationals are major, like rape, murder and armed robbery. Mixing them with nationals creates worse behavioural problems for our youth," said Ms al Roumi. She added that a turning point for the decision that led to separating nationals from non-nationals was a murder case in 2000 that involved non-nationals under the age of 14. The case caused so much controversy that separating nationals became a necessity.

She said that attitudes to premarital sex were also different between nationals and non-nationals. "Particularly for girls, many [Emirati] families reject the return of their daughters after the girl has committed certain crimes. We find that most female delinquents are pregnant or single mums and they're non-nationals. It is difficult to keep them with our daughters," she said. Of particular concern for the ministry is what Ms al Roumi referred to as widespread sexual assault, including forced sexual violence, among non-national male delinquents, who often victimise nationals.

"We need separate detention houses for non-nationals, and that's what we're working on." relass@thenational.ae