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Hitting the Target: Improving Social Assistance in Latvia

February 18, 2016

World Bank Group

It is an ugly concrete building not far from downtown, painted in browns and beiges, but Inga Zvejniece comes here, to her local social welfare office in Riga, every month.  She has to, so she can get the money she needs to pay the rent and the bills.

" After spending money for heat and gas, I’d have to live on three Euro a day, which just isn’t possible. "

Inga, a former nurse

Inga is a former nurse, and she says her pension of 190 Euro doesn’t go far enough. “If I didn’t get this help, I’d have no chance of survival,” she explains. “After spending money for heat and gas, I’d have to live on three Euro a day, which just isn’t possible.”

Latvia was hit hard by the economic downturn of 2008, and ramped up its social assistance payments accordingly. To maximize scarce funds, the country has overhauled its social protection system, with help from the World Bank.

" I’m here for my sister, who is sick and cannot walk... She needs this money. "

Victor Zamurujev


When the economy slows down, the poorest are hit hardest: a local social welfare office in Riga, Latvia.

As is always the case when the economy slows, the poorest are hit hardest, so the idea is to get help to those who need it most, people like Victor Zamurujev’s sister. He’s a security guard, waiting for an appointment at the social welfare office, because she is too sick to come herself.

“I’m here for my sister, who is sick and cannot walk. There’s a choice, pay the bills and don’t eat. But if she doesn’t pay the bills she’ll get taken to court. She needs this money,” he says, waiting patiently.

It is called ‘targeting.’ To better reach the people who genuinely need help, and to stop benefits for those who do not, the government of Latvia has put its demographic information into a database. Using a central software system to monitor social assistance payments means the money reaches the poor, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

" It is important that we really know who is getting benefits. "

Ieva Jaunzeme

State Secretary, Ministry of Welfare


Latvia's economy is picking up, but unemployment remains high: local market in Riga.

And, the categories for aid can be adjusted if the economy slumps or if unemployment increases. Nowadays, even as the economy slowly recovers, there is still much demand for help, so officials say it is especially important to target those most in need, old-age pensioners, workers who earn low wages, and families.

It is important that we really know who is getting benefits,” says Ieva Jaunzeme, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Welfare. “It is easier online, we have 12 different categories of beneficiaries, and now we can enact better policies to directly target them.” She says the economy in Latvia is picking up, though unemployment remains high. And getting people back to work is a priority.

Local governments in Latvia play an important role in paying for social assistance and in ensuring that it remains an important last resource in the country’s social safety net.

Ervins Alksnis runs Riga’s Social Services program. He says the number of needy people in Riga in May of 2015 was exactly 10,200 people. “They get 128 Euro per person per month in assistance. But things are getting better, the number of people decreased by 21 percent compared to last year.”