Athere are currently 8,176 families in the capital that receive RSI. Between March 2020 and April 2021, “more than 800 new families” appeared in a desperate financial situation to whom this help was granted, according to data from the Social Security Institute (ISS) made available to Santa Casa da Misericórdia in Lisbon (SCML).
In the midst of a pandemic crisis, “new audiences appeared”, told Lusa Vera Serras, director of SCML, the entity that monitors the measure in the capital.
In addition to the cases identified in the poorest areas of the city, requests for help have also started to appear from those who live in neighborhoods usually associated with higher social classes, such as Alvalade, Avenidas Novas, São Domingos de Benfica or Olivais, he said.
The processes reveal unemployment stories but also present cases of family support networks that suddenly failed, explained the director of the Proximity Intervention Development Unit and SCML’s RSI interlocutor with the ISS.
Vera Serras underlined that “not all are the result of the pandemic”, but acknowledged that the season has aggravated situations.
With precarious jobs and no discounts for Social Security, confinement threw them into unemployment and left them with nothing. The RSI was “the only measure that allowed them to have income to ensure their livelihood”, explained the director.
But when the cases are brought to the attention of the Santa Casa technicians, there are many people already “at the limit of over-indebtedness”.
Between the belief that they will be able to solve the financial situation on their own and the shame of asking for help, families appear with several months of arrears of income or other unpaid bills, he said.
However, for the SCML director, these are not the most complicated cases. When the confinement ended, many managed to find employment and “no longer benefited from the benefit”.
“They are motivated people, willing to return to the labor market, for whom this benefit served, essentially, as a springboard. It was a minimum income when they most needed it”, he explained.
In the RSI processes followed by SCML there are also stories of mental illness. In these same more organized neighborhoods, there are adults who live with their parents, on whom they depend financially.
The death of the parents leaves them with nothing. For some it can be “only” a money problem, for others it is added to an already fragile mental health, which worsens in these situations. Once again, with no discounts made to Social Security, the RSI appears as a solution.
In these cases of mental health, it is the proximity network that raises the alert. It’s the neighbors who sense that something is wrong. “Because people stop doing their personal hygiene or because they stop keeping the house clean,” explained Vera Serras.
But there are also alerts coming from the parish councils, the police or the local health center. “Social and parish centers as well as schools and employment centers are also attentive and are often able to detect early when a new case arises.”
But there is another side to RSI. Whoever extends this support for years on end. Vera Serra recognizes that there is a fringe of dependent population: “There are those who have benefited from this measure for many years. But these beneficiaries are associated with other constraints.”
Most of the 8,176 families currently supported live in the poorest neighborhoods of the city, located in the parishes of Santa Clara, Marvila and Penha de França.
The typical profile is easily drawn: They left school before their time, there are even those who cannot read or write, and “many of them have an absence of work habits”.
For these reasons, says Vera Serras, “many families are unable to enter the labor market.”
Although the award of the RSI implies the signing of a contract in which the person receiving the support promises to commit to looking for a job, the reality is much more complicated.
There are many cases where living dependent on benefits is a habit that passes from parents to children.
Despite this, Vera Serras remains a supporter of the measure, arguing that the monthly value should be increased.
Currently, the beneficiary benefiting from the benefit receives 189.66 euros and then for each adult in the household an additional 70% of the value and 50% for each child.
“It requires a lot of creativity to survive”, he said, explaining that there are beneficiaries who are looking for alternatives to meet their needs: “we have been witnessing a parallel economy, of people who find jobs with precarious ties, to respond to everyday needs”.
Vera Serras considers this support, which emerged 25 years ago under the name of Rendimento Mínimo Garantido, essential.
Currently, nearly 218,000 people receive this benefit, with the district of Lisbon having the largest number of beneficiaries in the country, with almost 56,000 people.
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