December 2, 2016 – A team of local PEP researchers held a national policy conference in Belgrade, Serbia, to discuss their findings on how to reduce child poverty. The conference was organized in collaboration with the Belgrade office of UNICEF and attracted 36 key stakeholders from the Serbian government, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, academia and the media.
Government representatives included the State Secretary of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Affairs (on behalf of the Minister), as well as representatives of the office of the Deputy Protector of Citizens for Children’s Rights and Gender Equality, of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, of the Republic Office for Social Protection, and of the National Assembly. Representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Bank also attended.
The team organized the conference as an opportunity to discuss their findings and provide relevant policy recommendations regarding Serbia’s two major welfare programs. Additionally, the team aimed to use the conference to raise public awareness of the relationship between social welfare, labor market measures and child poverty in Serbia. During the first half of the event, presentations on the status of child poverty in the world, the Balkans and in Serbia set the scene for the second half focusing on social protection measures aimed at poverty reduction, during which the PEP team presenting their results and policy recommendations.
The PEP team’s findings and recommendations come from their study: Reducing child poverty in Serbia: Cash transfers or work incentives, selected for support under the PAGE initiative in 2015. In this study, the research team analyzed data from the 2013 Survey on Income and Living Conditions, conducted by the Statistical Office of Serbia, to investigate whether a benefit strategy (taking into account revenue from informal work) or a work strategy (to improve parental labor participation) would be most effective in reducing child poverty.
The team’s analysis indicates that better inspection of informal income, redirecting child allowance funds to those most in need, could lead to a reduction in child poverty by up to 1.6 percentage points. Meanwhile, a strategy to increase parental work incentives has less impact due to job scarcity. Based on these findings, the research team recommends reforming the child allowance policy to take informal income into consideration while also investing in programs promoting formal sector work. Find out more about the research methods, findings, and policy recommendations in PEP Policy Brief 150.
During the conference, experts from UNCIEF, who are part of the working groups aiming to change the laws regulating child allowance and monetary social assistance, expressed their agreement with the team’s proposed reforms aiming to reduce the leakage of public funds to less-poor households. The ILO representative also stated his agreement with the recommendations to improve inspection and include informal income in means testing, recognizing Serbia’s large informal sector.
The State Secretary of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Affairs informed the audience that the Ministry is preparing legislative changes to the child allowance and monetary social assistance polices but, due to current austerity measures, a more generous child allowance would only be guaranteed for children with disabilities.
Following the conference, the Director of the Public Policy Secretariat plans to organize a meeting with the Assistant Minister for Labor, Employment and Social Affairs, at which she will present the results of the PEP team’s research.
Additionally, the State Secretary approached the team regarding his willingness to participate in future events organized by the team members on social entrepreneurship as part of their work at the Foundation for Advancement of Economics (FREN) in Belgrade. The representatives of the National Assembly Social Policy Committee and UNICEF also expressed their interest in other FREN activities.
As well as raising awareness amongst policymakers, substantial media coverage leading up to and following the event ensured a wide audience for the team’s findings and recommendations. Media coverage included three television interviews with Jelena Zarkovic Rakic, the team leader, on N1 TV (coverage in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia), on RTS TV (national public service broadcaster) and on RTV Studio B (all interviews in Serbian), as well as an article in the Politika daily newspaper.