The range of social services provided by municipalities to persons with disabilities and the elderly is quite minimal, and the identified quality deficiencies raise doubts about the feasibility of Lithuania’s international obligations – such conclusion was reached by the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas, who conducted an investigation on the availability of social services in municipalities for persons with disabilities and the elderly. Among other things, the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas acknowledged that the availability of social services in Lithuania is extremely problematic, there is a lack of clear regulation, and municipalities do not collect information on the real need of social services for vulnerable persons.
Assessing the quality control of social services, the Seimas Ombudsman states that due to shortcomings in the current legislation as well as abstract conclusions of the responsible controlling authorities in the country, there is a lack of a unified methodology for assessing the quality of social services. Due to the lack of clear regulation, there is no common standard for the quality of social services in the country; each municipality applies different methods of assessing the quality of social services, which makes the assessment of these services very subjective, does not guarantee the quality of social services and the rights of recipients of those services.
“During the investigation, after interviewing all sixty municipalities of the country, it became clear that currently only thirteen of them have developed and approved procedures for assessing the quality of social services provided. It should be noted that in four of them the procedure was approved already after the Seimas Ombudsman’s request for information. After analyzing the quality assessment documents of the social services provided by the above-mentioned thirteen municipalities, it became clear that the quality assessment and control process in the municipalities is very different,” concludes the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas.
Another particularly serious problem is the availability of community social services in municipalities. The Seimas Ombudsman notes that access to social services varies greatly from one municipality to another, as there is no approved common standard for access to community social services in the country. The quality and quantity of social services often depend on the social services policy implemented by the municipality where the service recipient lives, the funds allocated and the efforts made to provide these services. Moreover, the country does not collect information on the availability of social services, and the elderly or disabled people are not visited on a preventive basis.
“A human rights-based approach to disability is not based on the granting of specific rights, but on the equal enjoyment of all human rights without discrimination. The fundamental values of this paradigm are therefore the invaluable dignity of each person, autonomy and freedom of choice, the innate equality of all persons, regardless of differences, as well as solidarity. And, in the opinion of international experts, these paradigms cannot really be properly ensured in large segregated institutions,” explains the Seimas Ombudsman A. Normantas.
Assessing the country’s international obligations in the field of providing social services to persons with disabilities and the elderly, the Seimas Ombudsman notes that Lithuania is committed to ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities and the elderly, including full participation in society and adequate and sufficient social services. Nevertheless, the Seimas Ombudsman noted that the process of transition from institutional care to care or assistance to a person in the community is taking place too slowly.
According to the Seimas Ombudsman, one of the most important legal acts of the European Union in the field of human rights is the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 23 of which enshrines the right of the elderly to social security. That article states that, in order to ensure the effective exercise of the right to social protection of the elderly, the Parties commit to take appropriate measures to enable the elderly to remain full members of society for as long as possible and to lead independent life in their familiar surroundings; however, Lithuania has not ratified this article.
The Seimas Ombudsman acknowledged that the investigation revealed extremely sensitive problems related to the accessibility of municipal social services for people with disabilities and the elderly, due to which the availability of services for the vulnerable population of the country cannot be assessed as sufficient at present.
Nevertheless, the Seimas Ombudsman hopes that the recommendations submitted to the newly formed Government and Lithuanian municipalities will be carefully assessed and fully implemented.
Seimas Ombudsmen carry out national prevention of torture in places of deprivation of liberty in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office is also a National Human Rights Institution accredited with an “A status” at the United Nations.