Life for those on a low income is extremely difficult in Romania. Many families are trying to survive on as little as 60 euros a month and we get tired of people from the West telling us that ' it's all right for them because things are cheaper here'! We need to be clear on something - 'things' are not cheaper here! Luxury 'things' like hotel rooms, meals in restaurants, alcohol, ice cream are cheaper, it's true - of course the very ' things' that foreign visitors can and do buy ... But the basic daily necessities of life are not cheaper here. To give just one example, milk is more expensive in Romania than in the UK! Generally the cost of living is at an EU level while salaries and benefits are not.
Added to this general hardship faced by the majority of the population, many of the families with whom we work have little or no education. They gave difficulty in finding a job because even most unqualified work requires a basic level of education - how do you stock supermarket shelves if you cant read the labels?
State benefits and pensions for the elderly our disabled exist but they are woefully inadequate and difficult to access due to the bureaucracy left over from the Communist regime. If you have little or no education you simply can't complete all the various forms required. It quite literally is a bureaucratic nightmare!
One of the many services we offer for our families is help with paperwork. It might only give a family a few extra euros but it makes a difference. There is enough work for a full time member of staff just advising and helping with various applications - help with school requisitions, winter wood assistance, social canteen meals - but of course we don't have a member of staff to do this. Most of it currently falls to our volunteer, Mari as we are foreigners and struggle to understand the complicated forms and are scared of getting it wrong and causing someone to miss out.