Demonstration Against Disability Compensation Reform Announced
Practically all of the country's advocacy organisations for disabled people have announced they will hold an hour-long demonstration on the government hill in Tallinn on Tuesday to protest against disability compensation reform.
The ruling coalition says the reform focuses on ability rather than disability, with the disabled no longer assigned a percentage indicating their level of disability. Instead they will be offered services to help them find a job. Critics claim the proposed system is too heavily linked to pay and previous jobs.
Organizers - including the associations for the blind and deaf, physically disabled, mentally disabled, a seeing eye dog users association, guide dog training centers, patients and caregivers associations - say the reform includes no measures for supporting people who lack education and work experience altogether and that it does not do enough to motivate employers to create jobs.
They also demand that the payment of benefits for disablement not be linked to wages and that local governments be given equal financial opportunity to launch social services that reach people with special needs equally in all areas.
A member of the board of the Association for Physically Disabled, Tiia Sihver, said that the Social Affairs Committee rushed the bill into the first reading on June 17 despite opposition from the disabled people's lobby.
"Just like we have been treated as invisible in the past, the Cabinet tends to continue this behavior today. They have sent a clear signal to us that our voice and opinions don't count for anything. Yet this is a reform that will affect most of us very painfully."
Key aspects of the reform
Estonia has 95,000 people with some level of occupational disablement, many of them in rural areas. One-third of this number works. Sixty-three percent say they want to work.
A total of 180 million euros of EU money is planned for the reform, which aims to have 10-15 percent of currently non-working disabled employed by 2010. It's estimated by the government that 20,000 of the recipients of the disablement benefits will be receiving more after the reform.
The Unemployment Insuramce Fund will be solely responsible for assessing disablement and offering various services.
Those are completely unable to work will receive 320 euros a month.
Those with partial disablement will receive 180 euros. When the person gets a paying job, the benefit will gradually start decreasing from 640-euro gross wage. The benefit is no longer payable at salaries of 1,005 euros and over.
The reform would enter into force on July 1, 2015.