Refugee pressure on Estonian social system less than feared

Information materials for Ukraine refugees.
Information materials for Ukraine refugees. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Social benefits are the only way to cope in Estonia for many Ukrainian war refugees. Even though pressure on the social system has grown, it has done so less than feared, Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo said.

Ivanna, her two kids and mother came to Estonia from Kryvyi Rih. While their stay was initially paid for by the Estonian state, they now have to make do on their own on under €1,000 a month. That is what social benefits for a family of four amount to of which €600 is spent on lodging alone.

"It is hard. I pay the rent and utilities and received food aid that has been a great help," Ivanna said.

She hopes things will get easier after her kids get a kindergarten place. Ivanna hopes to find work as a crane operator.

Estonia has received around 50,000 refugees since the start of the war in Ukraine. While refugees have put additional pressure on the social system, Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo said the effects are not as great as feared.

"Because people who are granted temporary protection can access a similar level of social protection to what is available to Estonians, they largely cope by themselves, and we know that 39 percent of working-age people have found employment," the minister said.

Around 4,700 people are paid family benefits, with 363 also receiving parent's pay. Disability benefits are paid to 121 persons, with 859 compensated for the difference between the Estonian and Ukrainian national pensions.

"In all of these schemes, it makes up less than 1 percent of the total benefits volume, with the exception of subsistence benefit and food aid where the number of recipients has grown," Riisalo said.

The supplementary state budget added €3.9 million to this year's food aid budget of €4.5 million, while €28.6 million had to be found for subsistence benefits.

Around 58 percent of subsistence benefit recipients are Ukrainian. The number of subsistence benefits recipients has spiked in Rakvere where Ukrainians now count for 3 percent of the population. While applications totaled 746 last year, 703 had been registered by July this year. A fifth of recipients are refugees.

"That is a considerable percentage and where pressure is greatest in terms of benefits. Also in terms of human resources. We have been hiring additional help and will be asking the council for another half-time benefits specialist who would only work with Ukrainian war refugees today," Rakvere Mayor Triin Varek said.

Estonia is currently paying for the accommodation of 3,700 refugees.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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