x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Benefits system 'is understaffed'

The number of single and young divorced women requiring support has grown rapidly, while many people are seeking help directly from the Ministry of Social Affairs, report says.

Some beneficiaries have received no payments since 2008, the committee has found.
Some beneficiaries have received no payments since 2008, the committee has found.

ABU DHABI // The ministry in charge of the benefits system is severely understaffed, has no central records of those it supports, fails to keep track of payments and does not help benefit claimants to find work, according to a report for the FNC.

Claimants receive wildly varying amounts of support despite sharing similar hardship, and benefit levels have not kept pace with inflation since they were established in 2001, the report says.

The number of single and young divorced women has grown rapidly in the past decade, but neither group is adequately covered by benefit support. And staff shortages force many people in hardship to seek support directly from the ministry responsible, the Ministry of Social Affairs, according to the report prepared by the FNC's Health, Labour and Social Affairs committee.

Sultan Al Sammahi (Fujairah), the committee secretary, said the ministry had made some improvement and was awaiting cabinet approval for more reforms. "They promised they would create a database, and increase the number of researchers," he said. "They have made a noticeable change, and plan more."

The report identifies understaffing as the root cause of many of the problems. The ministry has only 26 researchers to identify and assess beneficiaries, and in only four emirates.

Ras Al Khaimah has nine researchers dealing with 4,101 recipients, and Sharjah has six to cover 6,579 cases. There are no researchers in Dubai, Umm Al Quwain or Fujairah.

In its responses in the report, the ministry says it is constrained in some cases by the 2001 social security law. For example, that law classifies jobless Emiratis as "other", rather than as a category in their own right, as the committee has called for.

The committee also found that some beneficiaries had received no payments since 2008, although the ministry insisted their payments had been postponed, not cancelled. Such cases included students who were married and therefore no longer entitled to benefits, the ministry said.

The committee called for the extension of last year's presidential decree that increased nine of the 12 benefits by 20 per cent. The same rise should be given to all recipients, it said.

That, the ministry said, was beyond its powers.

It said those who benefited from the increase were those who were unable to work, including the elderly, widows, orphans, the disabled, expatriate widows and prisoners' families.

In the long term, the committee criticised the ministry for failing to co-ordinate with employers to find work for those on benefits. It said 10,179 benefit recipients, three-quarters of them women, were fit for work.

The ministry said it was not its responsibility to provide job placements or training. In any case, it said, many benefit recipients were poorly educated, too old, or had convictions that put off employers. It said it tried to encourage people to make their own arts and crafts and sell them through exhibitions.

The ministry said it had signed a number of training agreements with private and government entities, which had helped 186 people in 2011.

The Ministry of Education has also provided 1,500 jobs as bus supervisors; those taking jobs would have their benefits doubled, according to the report.

The committee said, however, that the Ministry of Social Affairs could do more to link those on benefits to job databases.

The FNC will debate the report today, with Mariam Al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs, present at the session.

osalem@thenational.ae