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Latvia: the economic crisis still reverberates on the wellbeing of families and children.

The government has taken certain steps to alleviate the financial pressure to families with children by introducing certain improvements in the social benefit system, tax incentives, also increasing the availability of child minding services, increasing the minimum wage, amending the social insurance system. 
But there are still challenges ahead: to tackle high rates of poverty by reforming social assistance for better coverage, by improving benefit adequacy and strengthening activation measures for benefit recipients; reinforce the delivery mechanisms to effectively reduce child poverty (Council recommendation COM(2013) 364 final).  

Access to adequate resources

In order to help the parents to participate in the labour market the State Employment Agency (SEA) is offering different types of services that would enable them to re-enter the labour market, such as professional training, re-training and the development of skills  etc. 

In 2012, the female employment rate was 61.7%, which is considered to be a positive trend compared to the previous years.

Government has approved positive changes in the labour tax and personal income tax and raised the minimum wage. In addition allowance for dependents has been significantly increased from 80 lats (€113.83) to 116 lats (€165) and the basic tax allowance (per month) has been increased from 45 lats (€64.03) to 53 lats (€75) in 2014; in 2013 property tax relief for large families has been introduced and in 2012 tax relief for a large family’s private vehicle has been introduced.

In 2013, state social benefits for families with children have been increased: increased financial support for child care up to 1 and a half years of age both for parents who receive the benefit from the state social insurance system and for parents who have not made sufficient social insurance payments until the child is born; the supplement has been increased for twins or several children born in one pregnancy  aged 0-18 months; the obligatory social insurance payment has been doubled both for parents who care for a child up to 1 and a half years of age and receive child care benefit and for parents who care for the child up to 1 year of age and receive parents’ benefit; the ceiling of the payment of maternity, paternity and parents’ benefit has been doubled. State financed free school meals are provided for the 1st and 2nd grade.

In 2014 financial support for child care up to 1 and a half years of age was additionally increased. State guaranteed maintenance payment for a child has been additionally increased. From 1 September 2014 state financed free school meals will be provided for the 1st , 2nd and 3rd grade and the state earmarked subsidy will be increased. From 1 October 2014 it will be possible for a parent to receive support for child care and parents’ benefit at the same time. Parents will be able to choose between two different payment schemes of parents’ benefit.

In 2011 1.1% of GDP was allocated for social protection benefits, a substantial reduction compared with previous years.

In 2012 40% of children under 18 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. 

Access to affordable quality services

Since the beginning of 2013 all the local governments provide co-funding for children attending private kindergartens. The average support coming from the local governments per child is 95 lats or €135.17 per month. The state is providing co-funding from the 1st of September, 2013. In this way adding together the co-funding of the state and the co-funding paid by the local government the child will be able to attend kindergarten free of charge either private or public.  As an alternative to that the parent may choose to apply for nanny’s services, which is also co-funded by the state. 

In 2011 14% of children less than three years of age received formal child care services for 30 hours or over. At the same time 66% from age three to minimum compulsory school age received formal child care services. An additional 1% of children under 3 and 7% of children from 3 to compulsory age attended child care services on a part-time basis (30 hours or less).

From the year 2013 for children aged 5 to 18 with disability assistance services in local governments is available. Steadily the school infrastructure (elevators, classrooms, floors, doors etc.) is being adjusted for the needs of pupils with physical disorders. Also the work of specialists is being improved so that they get more involved in the support of the child with special needs.

To facilitate the access to medical services for families and children the Ministry of Health has established new policies on the development of the human resources who are working in the health care system and on the financing of the health care system. New policies are being introduced to improve the care for pregnant women and new-borns, infertility treatment and cross-sector cooperation in the reproductive health sector.

The government is determined to introduce a gradual transition from institutional care to family type care for children who are left without parental care and at the same time improve preventive and support measures for the biological families. 

Children’s right to participate

In 2010-2011 foundation “Centrs Dardedze” has implemented a project that would promote child friendly investigation when a child is involved as a victim or witness. The project was co-funded by the Latvian – Swiss cooperation programme grant scheme and the private resources. Currently there is an on-going project funded by the OAK foundation according to which higher standards will be set for working with children in judicial proceedings.

Outlook

In recent years several positive measures have been introduced to strengthen the ability of families to be able to take care of themselves and children such as: reformation of the child protection system; provision of quality child minding services for every child in need; improvement of the financial and other supports to protect families with children from poverty and social exclusion etc. Now, it is necessary to implement a regular follow-up of the recent political initiatives to make sure the introduced mechanisms are effective and, where necessary, to make appropriate amendments.

 

In 2006, the Latvian government introduced the ‘Family-friendly Company Status’ scheme in order to draw attention to companies which implement policies and services that are child- and family-friendly. The idea is to encourage other companies to implement similar measures. The status is granted for one year.

In September 2011 the Latvian Ministry of Welfare granted the Family Friendly Company Status to twelve companies. In May 2012 the Latvian Ministry of Welfare granted the Family Friendly Company Status to eleven companies and in September to another two companies (this status was granted for a period of two years to these companies). In January 2013 the Latvian Ministry of Welfare granted the Family Friendly Company Status to one company (this status was granted for a period of two years) and in May 2013 the Latvian Ministry of Welfare in cooperation with Sustainability Index granted the Family Friendly Company Status to twelve companies. On the whole, in 2013, there were 15 Family Friendly Companies in Latvia.

 

The public limited company Latvenergo AS (Latvia’s biggest energy power supply enterprise engaged in the generation of electricity and thermal energy and the electricity trade, as well as the provision of IT and telecommunication services) grants support for large families (with more than three children) by  two different social support campaigns. Firstly, socially vulnerable families with children are granted an option to receive cards for settling electricity payments to the amount of 53.70 lats (€76.40) from municipal social services in cities and regions. Secondly, a tariff compensation programme exists, which provides families with an option to pay for 3,600 kWh per year at the start tariff.  In this case the first 3600 kWh are charged at a lower tariff. The lowered tariff is 0.0818 lats/kWh (€0.12/kWh), where the usual tariff is 0.1065 lats/kWh (€0.15/kWh). Therefore offering electricity at a lower tariff to large families means that  each family eligible for such support gets about 88.92 lats or €126.52 per year. In 2011 such support was granted to 2,937 large families totalling 231,185 lats (€328,946). In 2012 about 453,507 lats (€645,282) were spent to support about 5,100 large families. In total 714,692 lats (€974,228) were subsidized from public limited company Latvenergo AS. After opening of electricity market in Latvia in 2014 the company is going to continue to provide social support for families.