New Uzbekistan is a Socially-Orientated State
The video conference held on April 29, 2022, chaired by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, was devoted to taking measures to further strengthen the social protection of vulnerable segments of the population.
Last year, in congratulating the people of Uzbekistan on the occasion of the 29th anniversary of the adoption of the country's Constitution, the President made a number of proposals to amend the Basic Law. In particular, it was proposed to consolidate the principle of "New Uzbekistan – a socially-orientated state" as a constitutional norm. In addition, the remaining points of the speech directly or indirectly also related to measures and plans to strengthen the social protection of vulnerable segments of the population, including children, orphans, disabled people and representatives of the older generation. The proceedings voiced then on behalf of the building a fair socially-orientated state were reflected in dynamic and large-scale reforms, which were immediately and in targeted way followed.
"Of course, we must comprehensively and deeply think through such an important, strategic task as updating the Constitution, hold a broad public discussion, carefully study the best domestic and world experience and only then make a concrete decision on this issue," the President said at the time. It is expected that the adoption of the updated document will take place during the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
The strategy continues
As known, last year the "Strategy of Actions on five priority directions of development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021" was successfully completed. During its implementation, the foreign exchange market was liberalized, tax reform was carried out, protection of private property and support for entrepreneurship were strengthened, structural changes in the economy took place towards the production of goods with higher added value, and the development of regions accelerated. The economic success of the reforms adopted at that stage made it possible to strengthen the social protection of citizens and deepen the fight against poverty. It was possible to significantly reduce the unemployment rate, raise the incomes of the population, improve the quality of medical and educational services, and improve people's living conditions.
It should be noted that in world practice, basically, two approaches are distinguished in the provision of social assistance: a universal approach, when assistance is provided to every resident of the country and a targeted approach, when assistance is sent only to the needy and socially vulnerable segments of the population. Uzbekistan has adopted a targeted approach that allows purposefully allocating funds directly to where they are most needed – to help vulnerable segments of the population. The expansion of material support and social services for the elderly, pensioners, and persons with disabilities will contribute to the sustainable improvement of the well-being of vulnerable segments of the population and poverty reduction in the country. The state must ensure the effectiveness of social policy, that is, it must choose the neediest among the population and provide them with assistance first of all. If the amount of the benefit is determined at a level higher than optimal, then it will be difficult for the state to determine who really needs help and who does not. And it is necessary to take into account the fact that benefits are paid at the expense of tax revenues and an increase in the amount of benefits may entail an increase in the level of taxes. Therefore, in Uzbekistan this issue is taken into consideration very carefully.
To continue the ongoing reforms in all areas, the "Strategy for the Development of New Uzbekistan for 2022-2026" has been developed in seven priority directions. In particular, during the ongoing reforms, much attention is paid to the development of human potential. As known, the development of human abilities occurs from early childhood. That is why in recent years so much attention has been paid to the development of preschool education, which will continue to be in the spotlight for the coming years. Thus, it is planned to bring the level of coverage of the preschool education system for children aged 6 years to 100% by the end of the 2024/2025 academic year. For this purpose, more than 7,000 new non-governmental preschool educational organizations are being created by attracting funds from the private sector. The field of education is not the only important area. The new strategy includes the reform of all vital spheres of public and business activity.
Priorities are getting stronger
The main and the strongest side of the social protection system in Uzbekistan is the availability of a wide range of various programs covering the entire life of a person. However, during the last meeting, the President noted that according to the results of the house survey, it was found that 2.2 million people in the country still need social assistance. With this in mind, a wide range of measures was targeted to strengthen the social protection of vulnerable segments of the population.
In Uzbekistan, more than 3 million people, or about 9% of the population, are older people. To provide financial support to the elderly, to provide them with daily care and attention, a system will be created at the makhalla level. In particular:
- more than 16,000 lonely elderly people in need of care will be treated in sanatoriums annually;
- medicines, prostheses and orthopedic products for 25,000 low-income elderly people will be provided by the state, and the cost of surgical operations will be covered from the budget;
- they will be provided up to 540,000 sums of monthly subscription for visiting sports facilities, such as stadiums, tennis courts, gyms, swimming pools;
- the cost of tickets to theaters and museums for the elderly will be reimbursed in full.
Also, from May 1, trips to holy places, new parks, cultural complexes and centers will be organized for the elderly.
Speaking about children and orphans, it should be noted that 376 state social institutions operate in the country, including 324 children and 52 adults for 39,100 and 9,700 people respectively.
Now funds from the state budget for the purchase of food, clothing, hygiene products and other basic necessities for pupils of family-type orphanages will be allocated in a simplified manner. In particular, the money, based on the expenses for one pupil, will be transferred to plastic cards to parents who have adopted a child. At the same time, funds for the payment of utility costs (electricity, water, gas) will be charged at prices set for the individuals.
All employees of specialized educational institutions for children with disabilities of physical or psychological development will be paid an allowance of 50% to their salary. For this purpose, an additional 30 billion sums are allocated this year. 5 billion sums per year will be allocated to the library funds for the purchase of fiction books.
In addition, it is worth noting that 600 billion sums are allocated as part of the targeted program for 2022-2023 for the performance of repair and construction works and equipment for all 376 state social institutions.
The President pointed out that the system of support for low-income segments of the population with disabilities will continue to expand. From May 1, enterprises employing people with disabilities will be receiving a subsidy of 400,000 sums for each such employee for 6 months. Self-employed persons and disabled people engaged in handicrafts will receive subsidies for the purchase of equipment and tools, and will also be trained in professions at public expense.
From January 1, 2023, a system of state subsidies will be introduced to pay salaries to employees of the Society of the Disabled, the Society of the Blind and the Society of the Deaf of Uzbekistan and their territorial divisions. In order to attract blind and visually impaired children to full-fledged education, 850 additional classrooms and 1,200 places in the dormitory will be created at the new “Nurli Maskan” school. Based on the state order, the libraries of this school will be fully equipped with textbooks and manuals, fiction and children's literature in Braille, and from 2023 the task is to introduce this experience in all regions of the country.
Social protection expenditures in Uzbekistan are increasing from year to year, for example, in 2018 they amounted to 35 trillion sums, in 2019 – 61.3 trillion sums, in 2020 – 74.2 trillion sums, in 2021 – 85.3 trillion sums, and expenditures of 105.5 trillion sums are planned for 2022. In particular, in 2022, the expenditures of the education sector will amount to 46.9 trillion sums, healthcare – 22.8 trillion sums, culture and sports – 3.4 trillion sums, and the costs of measures for the further development of science – 1.5 trillion sums.
In 2022, about 3,000 hearing-impaired children studying in specialized institutions will be provided with modern hearing aids worth 11 billion sums. Last year, in cooperation with international foundations, more than 2,000 children received hearing aids.
By October 1, 20 exoskeletons, 880 wheelchairs, 4,000 sound thermometers and tonometers, 6,000 smart watches will be purchased and delivered to the regions. 31 billion sums will be allocated for this. Modern prosthetic and orthopedic products by individual standards for 5.8 billion sums will be provided to 123 Afghan veterans with disabilities. In addition, on the eve of May 9, the participants of the Second World War will receive a one-time monetary reward in the amount of 15 million sums.
Students of non-state universities left without parental care will be allocated 10 million sums per year for the purchase of food, clothing and hygiene items. At the moment, such payments are received only by students of state universities. In addition, state fees for notary and cadastral services (up to 2 million sums) for registration of housing provided by the state in favor of children left without parental care are canceled.
According to the Presidential Decree “On additional measures for material support of segments of the population in need of social protection and assistance” dated April 29, 2022, the practice of paying 20% of the corresponding pension for personal expenses to elderly citizens who do not have the necessary work experience and live in “Sakhovat” houses will be introduced.
At the meeting, the Head of State again touched upon the issue of ensuring social protection of women, in particular, ensuring payments to women going on maternity leave, regardless of their work in the public or private sector. According to the current legislation, pregnant women are granted maternity leave and child benefit upon reaching the age of 2. At the same time, many private employers, in order not to pay maternity benefits, employ women informally, without registration. As a result, the proportion of women working in the informal sector is 57%. Starting from September 1, 2022, the state will partially compensate ‘maternity payments’ to the private sector. To do this, a ‘Social Insurance Fund’ is being created under the Ministry of Finance, where 170 billion sums will be allocated this year.
In conclusion, for comparison, it is proposed to consider the international experience of organizing social protection of the population, in particular, the use in foreign countries of such a staff unit as a professional social worker, who is a key figure in the system of providing social assistance and protection to the population there. Based on the approach of social monitoring of persons in need, a social worker performs an initial assessment of their needs and organizes the provision of social support to them. A professional social worker can provide social services based on his own qualifications or, if necessary, refer a person in need of social services to an appropriate specialist.
A system of social protection of the population has been created in Uzbekistan, taking into account our specifics and the presence of such a unique public institution as the makhalla, which has no analogues in other countries.
Back in 2020, according to a report prepared by experts from the ILO, UNICEF and the World Bank on the assessment of the social protection system in the republic based on the diagnostic tool (CODI), "Uzbekistan has a relatively clearly formulated and comprehensive social protection system consisting of social insurance, social assistance and labor market activities".
This conclusion was also made by international experts due to the fact that on January 17, 2019, the Presidential Decree "On measures to further improve the system of working with the problems of the population" was issued. This decree established that the people's reception offices, together with the sectors for the integrated socio-economic development of territories, state bodies and other organizations, identify the real problems of the population by visiting households, studying social and other objects, and also provide their solution.
It is on the basis of visiting households a database has been formed, which is popularly called the "Iron Notebook". It is to identify, solve and monitor the problems of vulnerable segments of the population in order to receive social, economic, legal and psychological support. Also, in a similar fashion, "Women" and "Youth" notebooks were formed at that time.
Since April 1, 2021, a new mechanism for accounting for the poor has been introduced by including them into the information system "Unified Register of Social Protection", which allows low-income families to receive the social assistance they are entitled to by law automatically (allowances for children under 14, child care up to 2 years, financial assistance and compensation payments for individual products meals) without additional provision of documentation. Persons or families recognized as low-income and included into the information system in accordance with the established procedure are also entitled to receive other services and benefits.
Thus, the measures taken to provide social support to those in need are designed to ensure the achievement of the goal set in the "Development Strategy of New Uzbekistan" – to cover at least 85% of the entire population in need by 2026 with social assistance programs that meet the criteria for assigning social benefits, as well as to reduce poverty by at least half.
Khurshid Asadov, Deputy director of Center for Economic Research and Reforms under the Administration of the President of Uzbekistan