Court rules guaranteed minimum income in Latvia unconstitutional

  • 2020-06-25
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - The Constitutional Court ruled today that the existing guaranteed minimum income (GMI) in Latvia is inconsistent with provisions of the Constitution.

The court concluded that the legislature has not resolved key GMI-related issues, including defining the basic needs GMI is supposed to cover and providing a method for the calculation of GMI.

Taking into account the economic factors and other considerations, the Constitutional Court ruled to invalidate the disputed provision as of January 1, 2021.

According to the latest data from the Latvian Ombudsman's Office, there were 41,522 destitute persons in Latvia last year, and 17,249 were recipients of GMI. They included 3,165 children, 3,097 persons with disabilities and 2,819 recipients of old age pensions. The average monthly GMI paid in 2019 was EUR 42.79. 

Ombudsman Juris Jansons, who had filed the application disputing the constitutionality of GMI, argued at an earlier court hearing that it is the duty of socially responsible state to give its residents an opportunity to lead a dignified life, which means that social assistance has to ensure a person's basic needs - food, clothes, housing, medical services and basic education.

The ombudsman emphasized that the current GMI, which is EUR 64 per month, only covers two thirds of monthly food costs. He noted that the food packages that are distributed to the destitute do not ensure proper nutrition in the long term. Jansons did not agree with the Welfare Ministry's position that the only purpose of GMI is to cover food costs and indicated that many people are forced to spend a part of this support to pay their housing costs.

As reported, in October 2019 Ombudsman Jansons turned to the Constitutional Court, asking the court to rule that the current guaranteed minimum income (GMI) level contradicts Articles 1 and 109 of the Latvian Constitution, said Ruta Silina, the spokeswoman of the Ombudsman's Office.

The ombudsman said in his application that in April 2019 he sent a letter to the government, demanding to amend the regulations that set that GMI is at EUR 53 a month which does not meet Article 1 and Article 109 of the Constitution. Therefore he called on the government to tackle the situation by June 12.

The ombudsman received a letter from the Cabinet of Ministers, combining a response to the ombudsman's letter in relation to increase of the GMI threshold and in relation to the letter on the poverty threshold. The ombudsman considers that the information included in the letter contains just promises that do not differ from earlier promises.

The ombudsman said that the current GMI level does not ensure even basic needs of a person and cannot ensure dignified standard of living. According to the ombudsman, it is unacceptable that rights of the poorest people have been ignored in such a long term.

Jansons said that in line with the Welfare Ministry's statistical data, in 2017 GMI was paid to 25,823 people (15,962 families), including 5,953 children, 3,659 disabled persons and 2,997 pensioners.

In 2018, GMI was paid to 20,878 people (13,659 families), including 4,316 children, 3,407 disabled persons and 2,986 pensioners.

"It is a duty of a socially responsible country to develop such social assistance system that ensured dignified standard of living, allowing a persons to be included in the society - poverty creates social exclusion," said Jansons.

The duty to ensure dignified standard of living to its residents also arises from the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said Jansons. "They state that every person is entitled to the rights to such standard of living, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services, that is necessary for the health and welfare of the person and his family," said Jansons.