Bulgaria

   

Social Policies

#40
Key Findings
With significant gaps in its safety net, Bulgaria falls into the bottom ranks internationally (rank 40) in the area of social policies. Its score on this measure is unchanged relative to 2014.

Education quality is comparatively low, with significant geographical variance. Public spending on schools is rising as a share of GDP. Income inequality levels are high and rising. Social policies have difficulties in integrating minorities, foreigners and people with sub-secondary-level education.

The health care system is inclusive, with key outcome indicators improving in recent years. Economic growth has improved the system’s financial stability. However, unregulated side payments to doctors are widespread, securing faster and better care. Public provision of child care is limited, though family support networks and parental-leave laws are strong.

The pension system does not effectively reduce poverty among the elderly, and is fiscally unsustainable. No policy for integrating migrants exists, and the junior government-coalition member, an alliance of nationalist parties, is vocally anti-immigrant. Organized crime and violence against migrants remain serious problems.

Education

#35

To what extent does education policy deliver high-quality, equitable and efficient education and training?

10
 9

Education policy fully achieves the criteria.
 8
 7
 6


Education policy largely achieves the criteria.
 5
 4
 3


Education policy partially achieves the criteria.
 2
 1

Education policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Education Policy
4
The Bulgarian education system is dominated by government-owned institutions and government-set standards at all levels. From a comparative perspective, public spending on education is relatively low. It is projected to increase from 3.7% of GDP in 2017 to 4.0% in 2021.

The quality of education in Bulgaria falls short of the needs of a modern competitive economy. While the PISA, PIRLS and TIMSS scores have slightly improved since 2006, they are still relatively low. With respect to higher education, the QS World University Ranking features only one Bulgarian university, Sofia University, among the world’s top universities. However, the university’s ranking has worsened and it no longer ranks among the best 800 universities covered.

The level of equity in the Bulgarian education system is average to low. Many children in upper-income families are able to attend private schools, which show better results in the external evaluations after fourth, seventh and 12th grades. In addition, the school dropout rate among minorities, especially Roma, is significantly higher than the average, meaning that schools do not provide the same opportunities for all ethnic groups. Finally, geographic variance in the quality of the education provided by secondary and tertiary schools is very large, with schools in smaller towns and villages and in less populated areas unable to attract high-quality teaching staff.

Citations:
World University Ranking: http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2019

Social Inclusion

#41

To what extent does social policy prevent exclusion and decoupling from society?

10
 9

Policies very effectively enable societal inclusion and ensure equal opportunities.
 8
 7
 6


For the most part, policies enable societal inclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 5
 4
 3


For the most part, policies fail to prevent societal exclusion effectively and ensure equal opportunities.
 2
 1

Policies exacerbate unequal opportunities and exclusion from society.
Social Inclusion Policy
4
Compared to other EU member states, Bulgaria achieves poor results in preventing exclusion and decoupling from society. Bulgaria also suffers from a relatively high level of inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient. The latter has risen significantly since 2012, reaching a record high in 2017. It seems, however, that this increase has largely been due to changes in the sampling of households and to problems in the measurement of incomes.

There is a general level of dissatisfaction with the state of society, which can be explained by the loss of subjective security during the transition to a market economy, unfavorable international comparisons in terms of material deprivation and poverty rates, and the failure of the judicial system to provide a sense of justice for citizens.

In general, Bulgaria’s social policy is unsuccessful in including and integrating people with lower-than-secondary education, minorities and foreigners (mainly refugees or immigrants). The lack of regional differentiation in the level of the minimum wage and in social security thresholds, the prevailing limits to free business entry and exit, and the performance of the judiciary in the business sphere prevent people in the lowest quintile and in disadvantaged groups from being employed or starting a business. Additionally, there are no policies sufficiently tailored to the integration needs of specific groups such as minorities and immigrants. Another contributing factor to weak social inclusion is the fact that some political actors have a vested interest in keeping certain voter cohorts in a position of dependence, while other political actors bank on the rhetoric of exclusion and marginalization of certain minority groups.

Health

#39

To what extent do health care policies provide high-quality, inclusive and cost-efficient health care?

10
 9

Health care policy achieves the criteria fully.
 8
 7
 6


Health care policy achieves the criteria largely.
 5
 4
 3


Health care policy achieves the criteria partly.
 2
 1

Health care policy does not achieve the criteria at all.
Health Policy
4
The Bulgarian health care system is based on a regulated dual monopoly: on the one hand a state-owned and state-controlled health fund financed through obligatory contributions by all income earners, and on the other, a union of health providers that negotiate a national framework health contract with the fund. Public health care spending relative to GDP is similar to other countries in East-Central Europe. After increasing by about one percentage point over the last decade, it is projected to stay at the current level of 4.5% of GDP over the medium term. Due to robust economic growth and the decline in unemployment, the financial balance of the health care system has improved.

The performance of the health care system in Bulgaria has been mixed. The system is inclusive, providing at least some level of health care for all who need it. Important outcome indicators (e.g., life expectancy and infant mortality) have visibly improved in recent years. However, the practice of unregulated payments to doctors is widespread. Those who can afford to make unregulated payments, receive faster and better quality health care. The system also suffers from substantial financial leakages, with public funds appropriated and misused by private actors.

Health care policy has been characterized by serious policy instability. Over the last decade, ministers of health have served on average less than 11 months. As a result, few of the regularly announced reforms have actually been implemented.

Citations:
Atanasova, E., M. Pavlova, E. Moutafova, B. Rechel, W. Groot (2013): Out-of-pocket payments for health care services in Bulgaria: financial burden and barrier to access, in: European Journal of Public Health 23(6), 916-922.

Families

#28

To what extent do family support policies enable women to combine parenting with participation in the labor market?

10
 9

Family support policies effectively enable women to combine parenting with employment.
 8
 7
 6


Family support policies provide some support for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 5
 4
 3


Family support policies provide only few opportunities for women who want to combine parenting and employment.
 2
 1

Family support policies force most women to opt for either parenting or employment.
Family Policy
6
Family policies have focused on financing parents during a child’s early years and on guaranteeing their job for an extended period of time. While the share of children aged three to six enrolled in kindergartens has increased substantially over the last decade, public child care facilities are still less developed than in most other OECD and EU member states. The lack of well-developed opportunities for flexible working time and workplace solutions in the Bulgarian labor market creates another obstacle for combining parenting with active economic participation. De facto labor-market discrimination against pregnant women and mothers of small children is common.

An important source of help that enables parents to be more economically active are family networks, specifically the traditional involvement of grandparents in caring for children. There is an active child support payment policy that often attracts social and political commentary, but the actual disbursements comprise a very small proportion (even within the social policy budget) and the effect on parents’ behavior seems negligible. This support is not means tested, and covers both rich and poor families regardless of their different labor market prospects.

Pensions

#37

To what extent does pension policy realize goals of poverty prevention, intergenerational equity and fiscal sustainability?

10
 9

Pension policy achieves the objectives fully.
 8
 7
 6


Pension policy achieves the objectives largely.
 5
 4
 3


Pension policy achieves the objectives partly.
 2
 1

Pension policy does not achieve the objectives at all.
Pension Policy
5
Bulgaria has a mixed pension system consisting of three pillars: a public pay-as-you-go pillar financed by social insurance contributions, an obligatory fully funded private-pension-fund pillar and a voluntary pillar. The second pillar includes people born after 1959 and is not yet paying out many pensions. However, the second pillar is currently underfunded due to the parliament’s refusal to increase its share in the general contributions as originally envisaged.

The share of retired people experiencing material and social deprivation fell by nine percentage points between 2014 and 2017. Yet, at more than 50%, the rate is still very high, indicating the very limited effectiveness of the pension system in reducing poverty among the elderly. The pension system is fiscally unsustainable due to its heavy reliance on the pay-as-you-go pillar combined with a negative demographic dynamic. A planned increase in the retirement age to 65 for men in 2029 and for women in 2032 will not be sufficient to make the system sustainable.

In the course of drafting the 2019 budget, the government reneged on its promise to abolish the ceiling for a maximal pension under the first pillar. This promise created an incentive for people nearing retirement age to postpone retirement and remain active over the last two years in the hope that if they wait they will be able to retire without incurring a pension ceiling. This was a major cause for the relatively fast growth in pension fund revenues and the improvement in the dependency ratio. Conversely, keeping the ceiling is likely to lead to lower employment and revenues.

Integration

#39

How effectively do policies support the integration of migrants into society?

10
 9

Cultural, education and social policies effectively support the integration of migrants into society.
 8
 7
 6


Cultural, education and social policies seek to integrate migrants into society, but have failed to do so effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Cultural, education and social policies do not focus on integrating migrants into society.
 2
 1

Cultural, education and social policies segregate migrant communities from the majority society.
Integration Policy
3
Bulgaria does not have a developed policy for integrating migrants. According to estimates, the share of migrants in the total population amounts to less than 1%, with most migrants being people of traditional Bulgarian origin from neighboring countries.

The influx of refugees in the wake of the Syrian crisis has demonstrated that accommodations for the migrants have been extremely poor; food, clothing and heating have been generally insufficient; and no real attempts have been undertaken to integrate migrants into the local society. The rhetoric of the junior coalition government partner, the United Patriots (an alliance of three nationalistic and xenophobic parties), has become increasingly anti-immigrant.

Bulgaria’s policy is focused on trying to prevent migrants from entering the country rather than improving the coordination of and mechanisms for accommodating and integrating them. In fact, the country continues to pursue segregation in areas such as education, where language proficiency requirements prevent most refugee/migrant children from enrolling in school, and the presence of nationalists in the government has increased this tendency.

Safe Living

#38

How effectively does internal security policy protect citizens against security risks?

10
 9

Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks very effectively.
 8
 7
 6


Internal security policy protects citizens against security risks more or less effectively.
 5
 4
 3


Internal security policy does not effectively protect citizens against security risks.
 2
 1

Internal security policy exacerbates the security risks.
Internal Security Policy
5
Despite relatively generous budgets, police forces remain ineffective, and are distrusted by both Bulgarian citizens and the country’s EU partners.
Still, most citizens live relatively safely, and crime statistics have fallen in recent years. However, organized crime and violence against migrants remain serious problems. Violence against women, an issue brought to the front of public debates due to the government’s attempt in 2018 to push through the ratification of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, has not been effectively addressed by state institutions.

Citations:
Jones, J. (2018): The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Council of Europe Convention on Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), in: R. Manjoo, J. Jones (eds.), The Legal Protection of Women From Violence: Normative Gaps in International Law. London/ New York: Routledge, pp. 147-173.

Global Inequalities

#39

To what extent does the government demonstrate an active and coherent commitment to promoting equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries?

10
 9

The government actively and coherently engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. It frequently demonstrates initiative and responsibility, and acts as an agenda-setter.
 8
 7
 6


The government actively engages in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. However, some of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 5
 4
 3


The government shows limited engagement in international efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries. Many of its measures or policies lack coherence.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute (and often undermines) efforts to promote equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries.
Global Social Policy
3
The promotion of equal socioeconomic opportunities in developing countries is not on the agenda of Bulgarian society and its government. Bulgarian officials take positions on this issue only when they are required to do so by the agendas of international bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations. On such occasions, the behavior of Bulgarian officials is reactive and not proactive. However, Bulgaria does not resort to protectionist trade barriers beyond the structure of such barriers imposed by the European Union, and does not impede or attempt to undermine efforts by the international community to promote equal opportunities in developing countries.
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