AUSTERITY SPAIN

Government cuts to dependency law "most barbaric of all measures yet"

Plans for 15 percent funding slash come after pension loss and budget reductions

The last great bastion of the former Socialist government's social welfare program has become the latest target for the government's all-out assault on public spending. The Dependency Law, which was enshrined by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as an inalienable right for all Spaniards and would have brought the country closer to the levels of social protection offered in some other European nations, is to suffer a 15-percent cut in funding.

This comes on top of the loss of an equal amount to non-professional caregivers - family members, and in the large part women - in the recent state budget and the rescindment of government Social Security system contributions for carers announced earlier this month, which effectively leaves more than 178,000 people without the right to a state pension.

The government has promoted the initiative as an attempt to regularize the current system, which is administered by the regions, in order to provide a similar level of care across the board. But this is far from guaranteed as each region can still further reduce the amount it sets aside for carers, of whom there are some 430,000 in total in Spain.

The health chief in Castilla y León, Milagros Marcos, admits aid will likely suffer further cuts in her region. "It is an attempt to make payments to families less attractive, so that citizens will opt for existing services, as the best way to generate employment." However, traditional social services are not obliged to offer the same conditions that home carers can provide and, despite the government's affirmation that dependents will be taken care of by the state, cuts in funding to local authorities from the state coffers have already fallen 40 percent.

It's like telling a cancer patient to wait two years to receive chemotherapy"

Further muddying the water is the new grading system for illnesses and disabilities. Those people classified as Grade 3 - the least serious cases - who are not already in the system must wait until 2015 to qualify for dependent status. Under the new regulation, local authorities will have two years to process applications instead of the current six months. They will also not be obliged, as before, to make retroactive payments for time spent on the waiting list.

"Of all the measures that have been taken to cut this law into pieces, this is the most barbaric of all," said the president of the State Association of Managers and Directors of Social Services, José Manuel Ramírez.

"It's the same as telling a cancer patient to wait two years to receive chemotherapy - probably they won't be around to receive it. Furthermore, from the management point of view, it rewards those regions with the biggest backlogs because it gives them legal carte blanche for it. It could even have a contagion effect in other regions, as it is now permitted."

At present, the waiting list for dependency aid stands at around 260,000 people. Calculations show that some 60,000 new cases enter the system each two years. The government, though, does not forecast a spike in the waiting lists but quite the opposite, basing its predictions on the increased healthcare liquidity afforded the regions through the 15-percent reduction in payments to non-professional carers and because dependency funding will be smaller not greater: already the regions receive 500 million euros less annually.

Therefore, the government believes, more people will fall back on professional social services and the central administration assumes the regions will invest the money saved back into their healthcare sectors.

However, family carers and social services are far from comparable. State carers may spend just a few hours a day providing home attention, leaving the family to care for the dependent the rest of the time.

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