While previous years had seen a steady decrease in the number of subsistence benefit recipients in Estonia, the number of subsistence benefit applications submitted in March doubled, due primarily to the arrival of war refugees from Ukraine.
As of this May, the Ministry of Social Affairs has received more than 38,000 applications for subsistence benefits. In late 2021 and early 2022, subsistence benefits were paid out to 5,000 applicants per month. By this March, however, that figure had doubled to 10,000.
"Beginning this March, the number of subsistence benefit recipients has grown in connection with war refugees from Ukraine," Kaie Pukk, an adviser at the Ministry of Social Affairs' Department of Welfare Services told ERR. "Indeed, it can be said that it has actually doubled. That figure has increased taking families from Ukraine into account."
According to Tartu Deputy Mayor Mihkel Lees (Reform), war refugees have impacted the number of benefits applications in their city as well.
"This spring now we are indeed seeing an increase in the number of subsistence benefit applicants in Tartu," Lees said. "Last April we saw some 400 applicants; this April that had already increased to around 700 applicants."
Nonetheless, the overall number of applicants for subsistence benefits has decreased over the past three years. When calculating subsistence benefits, the previous month's income and housing bills of a single person living alone or of all members of a family plus the subsistence level — which in the case of a single person living alone is €200 — are taken into account.
In 2019, the Ministry of Social Affairs approved €65,000 subsistence benefit applications. By last year, that figure had decreased by 5,000. According to Pukk, one factor behind the decrease may be more people being better off and no longer needing the help of subsistence benefits.
Kersti Kriisk, a lecturer of social work at Tallinn University (TLÜ), nonetheless noted that a reduction in the overall number of applicants may also be caused in part by feelings of shame — that people don't want to ask for help.
"On the other hand, a lot of people don't want to apply for subsistence benefits — that has certainly brought that number down relatively low," Kriisk said, adding that people don't want to be branded as such. "They don't want it, they don't dare and, in some cases, I believe they just don't know either."
The deputy mayor of Tartu, however, wants to encourage people to reach out with their concerns.
"I'd encourage anyone worried about whether they can cope to contact their local government," Lees said. "There's no point carrying your worries alone. It's worth coming, worth discussing and surely a solution will be found."
Editor: Aili Vahtla