Despite economic challenges, Venezuela consolidates social programmes

By Tim Young

Despite the ongoing economic challenges that it faces, the Venezuelan government continued to prioritise meeting social need in 2017.

In his recent ‘state of the nation’ address to the National Constituent Assembly, President Maduro detailed how government programmes were assisting Venezuela’s poorest citizens.

Public expenditure to meet social need amounted to 74% of total government spending in 2017. The year also saw the unemployment rate drop by six points, with 60% of the economically active population in formal employment.

In addition, the government raised the minimum salary and improved the CLAP (Local Committees for Production and Supply) programme which distributes basic food goods door-to-door.

Under the government’s housebuilding programme, 8,881 new homes were completed in 2017.  The housebuilding programme was instigated by President Hugo Chávez, initially to provide housing for thousands of people who lost their homes in devastating mudslides in late 2010.

To date in Venezuela, 1,926,448 homes have been built and allocated to needy families. A similar per capita programme in the UK would require nearly 4 million homes to be built over the same period, but at mid-point 2017 in the UK only 1,000,750 new homes had been completed, across all tenures.

Venezuelans moving into the new homes receive lifetime family deeds, in return for low-rate monthly payments. Unlike council housing in Britain, where Right to Buy has drastically reduced the amount of social housing for rent, the new homes in Venezuela can only be transferred or sold in exceptional circumstances.

Against the background of what he called “an aggressive and damaging economic war waged by the oligarchy against our people”, President Maduro also highlighted some new initiatives aimed at improving the finances and lives of some of Venezuela’s poorest citizens.

A key initiative is the ‘Carnet de la patria’, a new identity card intended to streamline access by the most vulnerable citizens to social programmes. It is estimated that it will reach approximately 15 million people who already receive some type of social assistance. All pensioners, for example, are eligible for the new card, with 93% already signed up for it.

The card is electronic, with QR coding, to prevent counterfeiting. All Venezuelan citizens over 15 have been called to register for the card by 5th February. Part of the registration process involves completing a census designed to measure the current coverage of state social programmes, to improve access.

A new social welfare programme has also been introduced, aimed at aiding families. Under the plan, Venezuelan families will be eligible to receive monthly payments, intended to cover basic necessities such as groceries.

The monthly payments are on a sliding scale, based on household size. For example, a household with two people are eligible to receive the lowest payments of 320,000 Venezuelan Bolivars (BsF), while a family of three can receive BsF490,000. Each additional family member increases the award by around BsF170,000. Top-up monthly payments of BsF700,000 are also available for pregnant women and Venezuelans with disabilities.

The programme is initially targeted at 1.5 million households but is expected eventually to benefit up to 4 million households.

Looking forward, President Maduro has also called on the National Constituent Assembly to control the country’s high inflation rates by applying the Agreed Prices Law. In tandem, he has directed the state distribution programme for food and medicine (known as the Great Sovereign and Secure Supply Mission) to address nationwide scarcities by starting work on regulating all goods and prices.