Brno, Litvínov - The town hall in Litvínov, north Bohemia, pays a majority of social benefits in the form of vouchers for all those who have been unemployed for more than six months. Jitka Seitlová, deputy to Ombudsman Otakar Motejl, says this is illegal.
Municipalities are only allowed to replace cash support with vouchers if there is a reason to believe the beneficiary will drink the money away or feed it to slot machines. In these cases, the advantage of vouchers is that they can only be used to buy food or other basic goods.
But the ombudsman's office says that, by giving vouchers to all residents in long-term unemployment, Litvínov is hurting those who cannot be blamed for their poverty. These include jobless people over 55 or mothers with children, who are disadvantaged on the labour market.
All treated as a bunch of drunks
The town hall in Litvínov defends its system, saying vouchers are teaching the unemployed to better manage their spending and actively look for work. The town's policy once even received praise from Petr Nečas, minister for labour and social affairs.
But in September Nečas's ministry issued guidelines, according to which town halls using vouchers have to assess each case individually and only then decide whether there is a risk the beneficiary could misuse the welfare.
Litvínov officials argue that the mere fact that someone has been registered as unemployed for a long time indicates that he or she uses benefits improperly. But Seitlová disagrees.
"In reality the town hall never investigated a misuse of benefits," says the deputy ombudsman. She adds that the town has labelled as unreliable also beneficiaries "who for objective reasons cannot find work, including persons older than 55, disabled people, people staying at home with children etc".
Not enough cash for pills
The share of social benefits paid in the form of vouchers should also be determined case by case. In Litvínov everyone got 70 percent in vouchers and 30 percent in cash. As a result, says Seitlová, some beneficiaries did not have enough cash for example to buy medicines.
"The deputy ombudsman is aware that finding a solution is difficult when problems accumulate, including dependence on social benefits, high unemployment, debt, deteriorating relations with other residents etc," said Iva Hrazdílková, spokeswoman for the ombudsman's office.
"But introducing a blanket policy to pay support in vouchers is definitely not a systemic solution, unless other measures are adopted especially in the sphere of social work," Hrazdílková concluded.