Third of Croatian Households Only Just Making Ends Meet

Lauren Simmonds

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As Poslovni Dnevnik writes, as part of the report on the state of human rights for 2021, the House of Human Rights in Zagreb held a discussion on socio-economic rights where it was pointed out that in Croatia, more than a fifth of the population is at risk of poverty, and a third of Croatian households are barely making ends meet.

The discussion was based on the part of the report entitled “The right to an adequate standard of living” which outlined, in 19 points, the state of the right to housing, access to social services, poverty, social exclusion and social welfare challenges throughout 2021. In addition, problems related to socio-economic rights vulnerable groups were further highlighted in the chapters on the rights of children, national minorities, especially when it comes to Roma and Serbs.

The report states that more than a fifth of Croatia’s population is still at risk of poverty and social exclusion. It is even more devastating that every other person over the age of 65 who lives alone is at risk of poverty, and more than half of their pensions are lower than the Croatian poverty line. Material deprivation is also worrying – as many as a third of Croatian households are currently finding it very difficult or difficult to make ends meet. No significant progress has been made on housing policy in 2021 either, the report said.

Problems in the areas of legal security of housing, affordability, occupancy, accessibility and access to housing have been further exacerbated by the aftermath of the earthquakes in Zagreb and Sisak-Moslavina County back in 2020, as well as the global coronavirus pandemic. It has been especially emphasised that the at-risk-of-poverty rate is higher for tenants than it is for apartment owners, and almost a quarter of subtenants are at risk of poverty. The trend of burdening the population with housing costs also continued last year.

People in Croatia still have problems with the availability and affordability of adequate heating, as well as the overcrowding of apartments because as many as 36 percent of residents live in apartments which are too small. This data is of additional concern due to the slow recovery of the earthquake-affected areas, but also rising inflation and rising energy prices.

How can we turn the situation with poverty around for the better?

“In these circumstances, last year the National Plan for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion for the period 2021-2027 was adopted, a key policy that should respond to these challenges. However, this plan is quite unambitious and doesn’t bring any measures that could turn the situation with poverty around for the better,” said Tina Djakovic, the coordinator of the Human Rights House in Zagreb.

The measures proposed by the state aren’t aimed at a systematic solution to the problem, and there are no new approaches to respond to growing challenges such as energy poverty or poverty of the elderly or social exclusion of people living in isolated areas, refugees and a number of other vulnerable groups and individuals.

Exercising socio-economic rights in the Republic of Croatia is also difficult due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and 2020’s earthquakes, said Deputy Ombudsman Tatjana Vlasic, who pointed out during the discussion that most complaints from people to the Ombudsman’s Office came from earthquake-affected areas of the country.

She also pointed out that as many as 92 percent of Roma households live below the at-risk-of-poverty level in Croatia, and almost half of them live in isolated settlements that do not have access to electricity and water. She also warned of the situation in Sisak-Moslavina County, where the unavailability of public transport causes significant issues when it comes to accessing health and social services, which especially affects the elderly.

Despite the sheer amount of struggling Croatian households, poverty and homelessness remain taboo topics…

Djordana Barbaric from the MoSt association pointed out that poverty and homelessness as an extreme form of poverty, are still taboo topics that are rarely discussed, and that vulnerable groups and individuals are often left entirely invisible. She stressed the importance of interdepartmental cooperation and a multidisciplinary approach to the problem, because people in poverty or homelessness often find themselves in complex circumstances and need help in the field of social protection, healthcare and in exercising theor right to work and enjoy protection against discrimination.

Olja Druzic Ljubotina from the Study Centre for Social Work at the Faculty of Law at the University of Zagreb, warned about the problem of child poverty and pointed out that children are especially vulnerable because they are dependent on others and are often an invisible group in society. Accessibility to pre-school education remains a problem in Croatia, which is crucial for the prevention of poverty and social exclusion of children. She also pointed out that institutions often don’t recognise child poverty as their problem, that is, that different departments should work together to find a solution and be able to act properly and systematically.

Poverty and social exclusion are significantly added to by the lack of availability and the quality of social services, said Valentina Zeljak Bozovic from the Rehabilitation Centre for Stress and Trauma Zagreb.

According to their research on the availability of social services, the differences between rural and urban units of local self-government units in the provision of almost all social services have been confirmed, and differences also exist at the regional level. These differences are the most noticeable in the availability of social services for young people, people with disabilities, people with mental health problems, and members of national minorities and refugees.

With Croatian households struggling to make ends meet, inflation continuing and the war in Ukraine continuing to result in various economic issues with supply chains, it’s not hard to see how all of the failings of the many systems in this country are failing the most vulnerable in society on a consistent basis.

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