Three years ago disabled people in Latvia received fantastic news – personal assistance (PA) legislation was to be introduced in Latvia. The legislation came into effect on 1st January 2013. In short, disabled people could apply for personal assistance funded through the national government and administrated by the local municipalities. It did not take long for all PA users to start complaining about this new legislation. Why? So much bureaucracy!
Since the personal assistance legislation came into effect there are ongoing negotiations between non-governmental organizations and the Ministry of Welfare concerning better solutions on how the service should be provided with less bureaucracy. All PA users share the same opinion – there are ridiculous requirements! The law includes the need of ‘verification’ – meaning one has to have proof that he/she has gone, for example, to the pharmacy or to a store with the help of a personal assistant. Evidence for the government requires collection of signatures from the seller and the bill – if you have this, you are safe and sound; the assistant will be paid for his/her job during the errand.
Latvian disabled people demanded this kind of bureaucracy to be stopped! What did they get? CUTS!!
The cuts came into effect on 1st January 2016. It took only three years when disabled people faced something unbelievable – the government stole their freedom! Being able to go out from their homes had given them a certain level of independence and was taken away. The government approved amendments to the regulations for funding for the assistant services which disabled people had been granted and financed through the municipalities. From 1st January 2016 the 10 hours per week of personal assistance are now just 2 hours. The Minister of Welfare Uldis Augulis (ZZS) argued that PA service has become increasingly popular and there is a need to align the financial possibilities.
“In the future more hours for personal assistance will be provided to a disabled person to get to work, for education, and social rehabilitation. These two hours per week for the PA service can be combined on a monthly basis because it is obvious that you cannot get to the theater and back in two hours.” – said Uldis Augulis. It is important to remember that the maximum amount of personal assistance for all needs a disabled person can receive is 40 hours per week.
As access to free time activity is a right as is employment. We really hope that this concession in having reduced PA service hours for free time activity to only two hours per week and at the same time increasing hours for employment with 10 hours per week will really give disabled people “real” opportunities to work and decrease the level of unemployment. Yes, the number of the personal assistance users is growing every year as in 2013 there were 3069 persons who used PA service and in 2014 – 6794 users. But this service is only providing access to human rights for Latvian disabled people.
We all hope that one day we will have a satisfactory legislation and that disabled people will have equal access to full participation in society!
Vice-chair of the ENIL Youth Network interim board