Personal assistance is not available in Latvia. Today the options are help from relatives or living in residential institutions. However, Dace Rodzina, who represents the organization APEIRONS, would like to change the situation by influencing legislation and launching projects with organizations from other countries.
Dace Rodzina is 39 years old and lives in Riga, the capital of Latvia. She has worked for three years as a project manager for APEIRONS (people with disabilities and their friends), an organization that is working to introduce personal assistance in Latvia. Dace Rodzina is attending the Swedish independent living movement’s 25th anniversary conference to learn more about personal assistance and to meet people from other countries and hear what has been achieved. “We need to learn from your examples. We’re still struggling to get personal assistance services. Since they aren’t available in Latvia today, the family is forced to find a solution.”
What does society offer?
“There are nursing homes for older people. That’s where you end up if you have a major disability, but don’t have a family that can help.”
Dace Rodzina has never seen a nursing home personally, but her friends have told her about the conditions. “You have no money, your entire pension is taken to pay for staying there. You have no opportunity to live a normal life with work and studies.”
Dace Rodzina’s father, Imants Rodzina, has accompanied her as her assistant at the conference. She explains that her parents have always helped her. “Yes, and since they’re 77 years old they won’t be able to manage much longer.”
All people with disabilities have a pension that varies according to how much the person worked. The minimum pension for people with disabilities is LAT 80, according to Dace Rodzina. Her pension is LAT 160 since she worked and paid social security contributions. People with disabilities have also received a monthly care subsidy of about LAT 100 since January 1, 2008. The care subsidy can be paid to a person who works as an assistant, but usually it serves as a contribution to the family, according to Dace Rodzina who does not know the exact eligibility requirements for the care subsidy. “At any rate, everyone who uses a wheelchair has it and it’s the same amount for everyone. The larger your disability, the more difficult it gets; if it’s small, at best you may be able to buy the help you need.”
How far does the money go if you pay for an assistant?
“The minimum wage in Latvia is LAT 160 per month, so you can calculate how far it goes. It isn’t common for people to be hired as assistants with the care subsidy, most people don’t know what personal assistance means,” says Dace Rodzina. “When our organization had a conference on personal assistance, it was the first time that people from the Parliament and social services were informed about how it works.”
Dace Rodzina would like personal assistance to be available for a certain number of hours based on the needs of the individual, and people with major disabilities could have round the clock personal assistance. “If I’m to be able to leave home and live independently, I would need personal assistance around the clock, otherwise the alternative would be to live in a residential institution.”
Some changes have occurred in recent years, according to Dace Rodzina; now people using wheelchairs can be seen on the streets, but before these people stayed home with their families. “Society has begun to offer help with elevators so people can get out, but it depends on where you live. Help is available in the cities, but out in the countryside, the municipalities are poorer and can’t afford to provide any help.”
Parliament is drafting a new law to implement personal assistance and the government says it might be able to be introduced in 2011. However, Dace Rodzina does not believe it will be any good since the discussion mainly focuses on what disabilities look like and how to identify them. “They talk about personal assistance, but the scope in number of hours is very unclear. The bill is highly controversial; one bill was recently rejected because it didn’t clearly specify the government’s responsibility.”
All parties say about the same thing, according to Dace Rodzina; the ruling party never has any money, while the opposition claim to support various reforms, but when they come to power they break their promises. In the current situation, the financial crisis has also made the situation very uncertain. Wages in society have been reduced, along with all types of government spending. “The general atmosphere is fear for the future. There is talk that the national government is going bankrupt, the government is working on a rescue plan and getting loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).”
APEIRONS is active in ENIL, the European Network on Independent Living. One priority for Dace Rodzina is to get help to start assistance projects in Latvia. It is one of the reasons that she is attending the Swedish independent living movement’s 25th anniversary conference. “I want to find partners to be able to start the personal assistance project in Latvia, so we have something to show our politicians and speed things up,” says Dace Rodzina.
Dace Rodzina was interviewed by Kenneth Westberg on Nov. 28, 2008