Uzbekistan Cuts Disabled Benefits

Uzbekistan Cuts Disabled Benefits

Observers in Uzbekistan have expressed alarm at a decision to withhold benefits from certain new applicants for disability status from January, saying it will deprive them of their only source of sustenance.

The new rules stem from legislation approved by the upper house of Uzbekistan’s parliament in December.

In Uzbekistan, as in other former Soviet states, the health authorities recognised three categories of disablement. Under the new rules, people in the third, least severe category will not be eligible for benefit payments, although they will still be entitled to subsidies for prosthetic limbs, crutches, wheelchairs and hearing aids, and will receive help in finding work.

The official statistics indicated that there are some 200,000 people in the third category. However, those already on benefits will continue receiving them; entitlement is being withdrawn only from new applicants.

Monthly benefits for the third category currently come to 60,000 soms, about 37 US dollars at the current official exchange rate.

A local analyst said the government may have decided on the benefits cut as part of efforts to reduce budget spending.

"The treasury is experiencing a catastrophic shortage of money," he said.

This is not the first time disabled benefits have been cut. In February 2010, over 80,000 people were either stripped of disabled status or moved to a lower category with fewer benefits.

"It became absurd," an observer in the capital Tashkent recalled. "Even amputees and people confined to bed or to a wheelchair from birth found themselves deprived of disability status or shifted to a lower category."

A doctor who sits on a commission that rules on disability benefits confirmed that secret instructions had been issued to reduce the overall number of people classed as disabled.

"We were given clear orders to reduce the number of [registered] disabled people at least by 30 per cent, and to downgrade the same percentage of people currently in category one and two into lower groups," the doctor said.

Other doctors said they were concerned that many of the disabled now classified as category three – which implies they are fit for work – were unable to fend for themselves.

"Category three includes many amputees, wheelchair users, blind and deaf people,” a family doctor in Tashkent said. "For many of them, independence is totally out of the question as they can’t go out or cook for themselves."

An analyst in Tashkent said there were fears that the benefit cuts would be extended to other categories as well, and cited cases where employers had forced disabled staff to resign because of intrusive inspections conducted by the authorities.

"In October, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection issued instructions for a review of all disabled people who are in employment,” he said, "Disabled people are now convinced that the [benefits] commissions will forced them to choose between working and their disabled status."

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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