UNDERPRIVILEGED Bahrainis could receive a 10 per cent increase in their monthly social welfare payments every three years if MPs have their way.Under the current social welfare system, a low-income Bahraini receives BD77 per month, a couple receives BD132, and each child BD28.However, Parliament’s newly-formed nine-member Strategic Thinking Bloc believes that the current flat payments don’t take into account future living expenses, inflation and life demands.ProposalFive of the bloc’s members, led by spokesman Khalid Bu Onk and president Ahmed Al Salloom, submitted the proposal to Parliament Speaker Ahmed Al Musallam yesterday asking for a review by the relevant parliamentary committee.

Also under proposed amendments to the 2006 Social Welfare Law, individuals who have general well-to-do family members could also be eligible for the monthly social aid with MPs amendment of “unmarried well-to-do family member”.The current law prohibits individuals staying at care or health centres, such as the elderly and those suffering from disabilities, from receiving the allowance.However, MPs have added the line: “The allowance could be given to cover additional care and health expenses not made available by the centres.”Also omitted from the law is the condition that individuals can’t have social aid and pensions at the same time.“It is the government’s responsibility, as stated in the Constitution, to ensure people are not driven into poverty and are able to meet their needs,” said Mr Bu Onk.

“It is illogical that the same flat payments continue without taking into account future living expenses, inflation and life demands as circumstances are changing rapidly,” he added.“The payments were originally BD70 for an individual, BD120 for a couple and BD25 per child, before being changed last year to BD77, BD132 and BD28, respectively, but that’s again not enough and doesn’t match today’s soaring costs.

“Years from now, today’s payments wouldn’t be sufficient and the pay increases should be automatically stated in law rather than brought for legislative intervention every now and then.”Mr Bu Onk said well-to-do family members were already preoccupied with other expenses related to their own, which means most of the time they are unable to help their parents, brothers or sisters, nieces or nephews, or cousins.“Unless the well-to-do family member is single then that could be subject to assessment to ensure they are capable of providing the necessary help.“Otherwise it is unjust to leave out those in need, just because they have well-to-do family members, who are not willing to contribute.”

He added that it was understandable that the elderly and those with disabilities were receiving social and healthcare from state-run or supported centres.“But not all services are provided and to cover for that social allowances need to be given as an exemption, for those found to be in need.”“Also, it is unfair for the elderly who have served the country and are receiving low pensions to be exempt from social support, and for that we have omitted the related clause.“People shouldn’t be forced to choose to live in poverty, they should be given all the necessary help.”

Social Development Minister Osama Al Asfoor told MPs in April this year that a new ‘line of basic life needs’ is under comprehensive study to replace the existing BD336, which is being implemented in accordance with the 2006 Social Welfare Law.He told MPs in an open debate at the time that 17,430 Bahrainis were living below the current ‘line of basic life needs’.The BD336 line, for families of six members and above, was set following a study in 2013.

Mr Al Asfoor said those receiving aid were also automatically included in general social welfare, like the anti-inflation and meat allowances.He added that people with disabilities or their families received BD100 monthly.The individuals or families also receive monthly discounts ranging between BD10 and BD20 on their utility bills.mohammed@gdnmedia.bh

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