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Social Situation and Politics Towards the Elderly People in Slovenia
by Blaz Mesec

With 13.2 percent of the population aged 65 years or more (1997), Slovenia ranks among the older societies in which the percentage of elderly people continues to rise. The life expectancy of individuals over 65 years of age is only one year shorter than that in Germany, which suggests that pensioners enjoy a good standard of living. Pensioners are evenly distributed between all income groups. There are more indicators to challenge the stereotype of the impoverished pensioner. Only people without pensions, and elderly, isolated farmers live under the poverty line. Problems arising from the social status of elderly people include the increasing need for care, nursing and help in general, burdening of family members, loss of the significance of life, suicide, and an undefined culture of dying. Fulfilling the human rights of the elderly would mean primarily providing for an acceptable standard of living and preventing age-based discrimination. The Old-Age and Disability Pension Insurance Fund and the Healthcare Fund, as well as social welfare measures resulting from the economic successes of the country as a whole, provide an acceptable standard of living. All these fields are undergoing pluralisation and reform processes, which, by clearly defining services and the public service network, are expected to increase the responsibility of individuals for their own well-being and to redistribute the responsibility of caring for the elderly between institutions other than the state.

Demographic Dynamics and Social Position of the Elderly

Tree of Life and Population Figures
At the end of 1997 there were 262,417 people aged 65 years or more living in Slovenia, accounting for 13.22 percent of the total population of the country. The cohort comprising elderly people aged 65 years or more has grown from a tiny bud sprouting at the apex of the population tree in 1948 into a vigorous and robust section of the trunk. The relationship between gender representation, however, is very asymmetrical: there are far more women than men. Only 1027 percent of men and 16.69 percent of women are aged 65 years or more.

According to projections for 1999, the number of people aged 65 years or more already exceeds 13.58 percent (all data: Statistical Yearbook, Republic of Slovenia, 1998). Population statistics projections for elderly people up till 2020 indicate an increase of one percent every five years, and the percentage is expected to rise to 14.5 by 2005, 15.9 by 2010, and 19.4 percent of the total population by 2020 (figures given by Malacic indicate that the percentage of people aged 65 years or more will increase to 19.5 percent in 2021 and 23.5 percent in 203 I ; Malacic, 1998).

Data for people aged 65 years or more indicate that Slovenia is, population-wise, an old society. A society is considered »old« when more than 7 percent (or 10, or 12 percent - different authors use different figures) of the population are aged 65 years or more. The figures for Slovenia for 1997 (13.22 percent of the population aged 65 years or more) undoubtedly places Slovenia among older societies.

The population ageing index, i.e. the relationship between people aged 65 years or more and children up to the age of 14 years, is 79 - according to projections for 1999. A normal ageing index, one which indicates a favourable reproduction rate for the population, is between 32 and 40. An index of 72 is considered the »demographic threshold«, i.e. the turning point beyond which the population no longer reproduces its numbers. Slovenia passed this threshold in 1996.

This fact is further corroborated by the negative natural population growth coeffcient, which fell from 3.1 in 1985 to 0.4 in 1997 (Statistical Yearbook, Republic of Slovenia, 1998). The main reason for this ageing of the population is the simultaneous fall in fertility and mortality. The ageing of the population is a reversible process: the population can be »rejuvenated« by increasing fertility and mortality, or by the migration of young people and adults. This means that the pessimistic prognosis that predicts the beginning of the extinction of the Slovene people is flawed, even though the data are not encouraging. The population ageing index is predicted to be 116 by 2020, which is three times higher than it would be if the reproduction of the population were within normal limits (32 - 40).

The life-span is continually increasing: life expectancy of men has increased from 65.56 years in 1958/59 to 70.01, whilst that of women has increased from 70.68 to 78.62 during the same period. The life expectancy for people of both sexes in Slovenia who turned 65 in 1995/96 is one year shorter than in Germany, for example. The age-specific mortality rate (number of deaths per 1000 of population of a certain age) has fallen in the 85+ age group, from 286 in 1980 to 219 in 1997 for men, and from 23 to 185 for women (Statistical Yearbook, Republic of Slovenia,1998).

All data indicate that Slovenia has an ageing society which has stopped reproducing, and the trend continues. This fact is underestimated. »We have been witness in Slovenia over the last few years to the unacceptable underestimation and negligence of the influence of demographic factors in the fields in question, as well as in a number of other fields«. (Malacic, 1998). Other experts are of the opinion that we should not view the ageing of the population with such pessimism. It was only in this century that the life-span of a large part of the population exceeded 70 years in Western societies, and we are still ignorant of the ramifications of this fact. Old age is still youthful, it is said (Baltes, 1999). This, at an individual level, means that a child born into this society will have a relatively long life. But what of the quality of that life?

Changes in the Population Structure of Elderly People
The age structure of elderly people, who by definition become so upon retirement or upon crossing the 60+ or 65+ age limit, has therefore changed, and so has the image of the elderly person. This entire category may be divided into two age groups (under 75 and over 75), the »younger« and the »older« group. The vast majority of elderly people remain active and capable of making independent decisions regarding their lives, and are still able to contribute to the development of the society through their work and social activities. In this regard, and especially with respect to early (or premature) retirement, the problem of their unexploited working potential is often mentioned (Jezernik,1980). In reality, we do not know in what manner and to what extent these potentials are being exploited; how much of this potential is being spent on lingering and »killing time«, and how much on various types of paying work or other sensible and socially beneficial activities. The method and extent of socially beneficial activities can be derived on the basis of two factors. The educational structure of elderly people is on the rise, and with it the probability of time being spent of creative and sensible activities, as has already been determined in previous research (Jezernik,1980). Because women comprise a greater part of the older population than men, we must assume that most elderly people spend their retirement performing (as yet unrecognised) useful work at home and for their families, offspring and relatives, and are involved in social and cultural activities. Until these relationships are more carefully studied, we must refrain from placing an exaggerated emphasis on the loss of working potential because the impression given is that elderly people are capable of utilising their time usefully. In addition to the introduction of flexible retirement, which has been enabled by the new Pension and Disability Insurance Act, consideration must be given to more flexible forms of employment that would enable pensioners to get paying jobs if they so wished (according to 20-year-old figures, more than one-quarter of the »younger« group of the older population are engaged in such employment; Jezernik,1980). Encouraging elderly people to become involved in various types of organised volunteer work should be given even greater consideration.

Women comprise the vast majority of elderly people; the older the age cohort, the greater the percentage of women comprising it (»feminisation of age«). One of the implications of this fact has just been mentioned. The second is the fact that such an age structure relieves the community of the burden of caring for the elderly because the male population is cared for by the female population, which remains independent for a longer period. Lonliness is one of the problems encountered by older women, and as they grow older they too require the assistance of others. Widowhood increases with age, from 38% for younger women to 75% for older women, and from 8% to 47% for men.

Indicators of the Financial Position of Elderly People

Is old age related to poverty? Analyses of the demographic, economic and social position of elderly people in Slovenia (for the period 1978 -1993; Stanovnik, 1997) show that pensioners are evenly distributed between the income groups, and that their population is stratified in a manner similar to that of the rest of the population, not concentrated in the lower income brackets. The position of single pensioner households, which are in fact more commonly found in the lower income groups, is different; this is especially true in the case of single retired women (Stanovnik, 1997). These individuals live a very modest life and are on the verge of poverty. Social welfare contributions that compensate the loss of regular income are an insignificant source of income for pensioners.

If the poverty line is equal to one-half of the average income in the country, we find that 13.1 percent of the women aged 60 years or more live under the poverty line; this accounts for the highest percentage of people living under the poverty line for any of the population subcategories of people aged 60 years or more, or among pensioner households. The 60+ category includes pensioners as well as others. It is only those individuals from this category who do not receive pensions, i.e. those who are financially supported by others and those who simply have no income, that are threatened by poverty. In general, poverty in the developed world is considered more a problem of the younger rather than of the older generations (»infantilisation of poverty«). The situation of younger pensioners is more favourable than that of older pensioners because they have other forms of income in addition to their pensions, or they live in households with active members of society.

On average, pensions amount to approximately two-thirds of the average salary (for 1978-1993), and despite a slight increase in the amount, the relationship between the two remains more-or-less stable (Stanovnik,1997). According to data for 1998, the average pension amounts to 67.4 percent of the average salary, whereas the average old-age pension amounts to 74.5 percent of the average salary (Institute of Pension and Disability Insurance, 2000). However, we cannot expect to maintain such pensions in the future without additional saving. According to Stanovnik, any person whose only source of income is a pension will fall below the poverty line.

Research covering geographically limited regions of Slovenia indicates that the vast majority of elderly people, or their relatives, own their own apartments or houses (84% in three Gorenjska municipalities; Klinar, 1997; earlier research conducted on elderly people in Ljubljana 15 years ago places the figure at two-thirds). Research into the housing problems of vulnerable groups (Mandic, 1999) mentions »older people« as being part of the vulnerable group (which is not treated in greater detail), but also concludes that younger generations would have nowhere to live if they were not living with their parents. However, the housing standard of elderly people, especially the older ones who live in old apartments, is often poor. Here, again, the average is satisfactory, but there are sub-categories in which the situation is poor.

In general, we can conclude that the financial situation is good, however, we must pay particular attention to the elderly individuals living in single households. A study conducted on elderly people in Berlin arrives at the same conclusion (Baltes, 1999). Old age should, therefore, not be equated with poverty, as was previously done for political propaganda reasons. It would be strange if an individual living in a developed country, after an active life of 35 to 40 years, were to be unable to secure the material conditions for a relatively good standard of living in old age.

Other Factors of Social Status
The average number of household members in Slovenia continues to fall. There is an increasing number of families in which two generations, parents and children, live under the same roof, as well as an increasing number of pensioner households. In 1987, 21.7% of all pensioners lived in pensioner households consisting of one or two members. By 1993, this figure had increased to 43.1 %. Almost one-half of all female pensioners (49.7%) lived in such households; one-third (28.7%) lived alone. The average age of female pensioners living alone was 68.7 years in 1993, and is significantly higher than the average age of all female pensioners (Stanovnik, 1987). In addition to this, the number of divorces, single-parent families, nonconventional families, and partner relationships is increasing.

The readiness and ability of families to nurse and care for others is falling all over the world. In a poll conducted in 1978 in Japan, where traditional relationships still thrive, one-third (34.5%) of those polled gave an affirmative answer to the statement »I shall care for my elderly parents, regardless of my own situation«. This figure dropped to one-fifth (23%) by 1993 (Beckman, 1997, after Takahashi, 1995).

One the one hand, the large proportion of employed women means that many women, through employment, secure for themselves a pension as the primary source of their income for the future, whilst on the other hand, employment prevents them from tending and caring for their elderly relatives who need their help. Indeed, a participant at an international conference on elderly people is said to have responded to the conclusions on the issue of caring for elderly people within the family, by saying: »Am I to expect my son's divorced and fully-employed wife to care for me when I shall most need help?« (K. Brown; Mesec, 1996)

According to some sources (Gosar, 1999), the ageing index of the rural population is 147, a result of the migration of the younger segment of the population, leaving behind only elderly farmers, who spend the remaining years of their lives isolated and alone.

The characteristics of old age in the postmodernist era, according to Ida Hojnik (1997), include: personal financial independence, solitary habitation in most cases, an intellectually and culturally active life backed by a well-developed social support and assistance mechanism for the fourth period, and poor family links.

From a sociological point of view, the problem of contemporary old age is the integration of elderly people - a search for new ways of bridging the gap between generations and respect for their creative potential and their capacity for solidarity.

Problems Related to the Social Position of Elderly People
The need for assistance increases with age. It has been estimated that 15% of the people aged 65 years or more need assistance (Mesec, Majcen, 1984), as do 30% of the people aged between 70 and 80 years, and 60% of the people aged over 80 years (Development Programme...). The number and percentage of people aged more than 80 years in also expected to increase from 2.22 percent in 1999 (projection) to 4.62 percent in 2000. As the life-span increases, so do age-related illnesses. The previously-mentioned Berlin study on elderly people (for 1992) concludes that practically all people aged over seventy years take some form of medication. This finding counters the overly optimistic prediction of affliction-free old age.

Nursing and the Burden on Family Members
Many families that include an elderly person eventually face a situation in which the elderly person requires not only occasional attention but permanent caring. It is also true for Slovenia that elder members of the family are usually cared for by a female family member, usually a daughter or daughter-in-law. In research conducted on 43 cases of domestic nursing in a Ljubljana community (Jakic, 1997), only 37 percent of the family members caring for an elder relative declared that it was a responsibility they were »still capable of handling«, whilst the remainder considered it a burden; 37 percent said that it was a »significant physical and mental burden«. Most of the family members questioned named help and home care as the type of assistance to which more attention should be paid in the future. This was followed closely by accommodation in retirement homes (Mesec, Ogric, Jakic, 1997). Caring for the elderly at home is a heavy burden for those responsible, as well as for the entire family. It can exhaust the family, result in family conflict, and impair the health of those caring for the elderly relative (Pentek, 1994). Such families must be handled in a realistic not moralistic manner and their situation must be alleviated; elderly people must also realise that there are limits to what they can expect from family members (Adams, 1996). Retirement homes due to lack of skilled nurses are characterised by a dangerously high overburdening of nurses, thus paving the way for neglect and abuse.

Neglect, Abuse and Violence
Although very little is spoken about this topic, which is very difficult to research, the problem does exist, both in families and retirement homes (Majhenic, 1999). Research conducted in other countries reports the existence of many types of neglect and abuse, from disregard to torment and homicide. Although there is less violence against the elderly than against children, it is better concealed. It is also more difficult to protect the elderly than it is to protect children. We must pay attention to such cases in order to protect the victim and help all those involved because neglect and abuse are often the result of overburdened relatives.

Loss of the Meaning of Life and Suicide
Suicide among the elderly contributes to the sombre statistics on suicide in Slovenia. The suicide coeffcient is highest among people aged about eighty years. Social processes, such as the migration of young families from rural to urban areas, the decay of farms and farmsteads, as well as other cultural and historical factors, contribute to the rate of suicide among elderly people. The sense of emptiness and hollowness is partly the result of misplaced values during the active part of life, craving for wealth, consumer goods, prestige, etc. - in short, a superficial life which is encouraged by society and whose emptiness only becomes painfully clear in our old age; it is also partly the result of the unavoidable losses that accompany old age and the breakdown of relationships, which leads to loneliness. As emphasised by Ramovs (1999), not having someone with whom to share a close and trusting relationship can often be fateful for elderly people. There are indications that, in addition to officially recorded suicide, there exist cases of wilful self-negligence that lead to death (such as secretly refusing to take life-saving medication, exposing oneself to infection or traffic, exaggerated activity, sport, etc.). These are categorised as calls for help and as »indulgent or concealed suicide«. It is unlikely that we shall ever uncover the full extent of this phenomenon. The fact that it is rarely spoken about seems to suggest that there are no »plaintiffs«; that it takes place with the connivance of others.

Culture of Dying
Humans have always dreaded death and dying. They have always been afraid of being present during someone's death, having to witness death itself. In traditional societies, however, people were accustomed to seeing and witnessing death throughout their lives and, like other natural occurrences, death was not regarded with great awe. Furthermore, specific rites and rituals performed on such occasions alleviated the confrontation with death. Families today are more isolated and it is perfectly understandable that the fear of death occurring at home is considerable, often exceeding all limits. Without realising it, most people will in such cases do everything they can to prevent death from occurring at home. And yet, it is my belief that there is nothing as tragic as dying alone. Assistance should therefore be offered to such families to help make the acceptance of death less painful and to help them understand that doing so would be the ultimate demonstration of their love and devotedness; and that this can be a fulfilling experience for the living. There is a movement emerging in Slovenia that supports »complete care for dying patients and their families » (Klevisar), hospices, help in dying, and assistance for the relatives of the dying. No-one wishes to be alone when departing from life, the world and one's loved ones.

Social Care for Elderly People

Human Rights in Old Age
In a speech, entitled »For a Society of All Ages«, delivered at the final event of the International Year of the Elderly, organised by the competent Government committee (January 2000), the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia noted: »An important part of socio-economic development is the inclusion of people of all ages into a society in which age based discrimination and involuntary isolation will be eliminated. The right to protection from poverty and social inclusion is especially important for their elderly. It is therefore necessary to stimulate solidarity and mutual help between the generations. Ageing is a life-long process and must be dealt with as such.« (Bizjak, 2000)

The general principle of equality before the law also guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms to elderly people, who have the same entitlement to respect of their human dignity as other members of society. They have the same right to privacy, their own life style and respect for their decisions, taking into account the various stages of the ageing process. Most of all, every elderly person has the right to social care.« (Bizjak, 2000) The Human Rights Ombudsman continues to point out that the European Social Charter binds Slovenia, either directly or in co-operation with public and private organisations, to adopt or encourage suitable measures whose main purpose is primarily to enable elderly people to remain full members of society for as long as possible by providing adequate resources, enabling them to lead a decent life and play and active part in public, social and cultural life; by providing information about services and facilities available for elderly people and their opportunities to make use of them. The measures are further intended to enable elderly people to choose their lifestyle freely and to lead independent lives in familiar surroundings for as long as they wish and are able. The Human Rights Ombudsman did not mention any breaches of the human rights of the elderly on this occasion, but made several recommendations regarding their social and health welfare and pointed out that the attributes of the generation that is currently moving into the homes are changing. The new residents of the homes are better educated and more demanding; the standard of living in the homes should therefore change to meet the new demands, and activities and the rules governing the homes should also be changed. (Bizjak, 2000)

These thoughts, which draw attention to the dangers of age-based discrimination, coincide with those of sociologists. If the current trend of increasingly longer life-spans continues, we would expect the statistical »age limit« to move upwards, but it remains at 65 years because this roughly coincides with the administrative age limit, which determines retirement age. Thus, the status of pensioners, their privileges and their restrictions are perhaps the only social characteristics common to the majority of elderly people. Pension insurance has in actual fact institutionalised old age as a distinct social category (Kolaric, 1990). Indeed, the responsibility for caring for the elderly has been transferred from individual and family level to intergenerational solidarity. This has created a new independent phase of life with a span of 20 to 25 years (Foelster, 1997).

If it were not for this coincidence, the statistical age-limit would probably move upwards, making way for a rise in average life expectancy. This means that an individual that might today be classified as »old«, might tomorrow no longer fall under that category. Further, it also means that we must maintain the fine balance between the attention that must constantly be paid to ensuring that social welfare is provided to people who are no longer fully capable of working, and the caution that must be taken in order to prevent the corroboration of the category defined by this motif, and to prevent us from attending to the gain of various social agencies in the name of welfare for the elderly. Such colonisation is rejected by the elderly themselves - who are liberating themselves from the attributes that society ascribes to old age and from overly zealous trustees (Hojnik,1997).

The Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia does not provide for age-based rights or privileges and, with the exception of pension insurance, the legislation also rarely uses age as a basis for special norms (Kavar Vidmar, 1989: 117). The National Social Welfare Programme makes mention only of »elderly people who can no longer care for themselves« as one of the risk groups of the population in general and not of the older population as a whole, thus making very clear the level to which interference into the lives of the elderly is still considered legitimate. The risks accompanying age, such as the deterioration of the standard of living, are related to a diminished working capacity, and thus the ability to secure an income. Insofar as the state has a social security system that works, i.e. a functioning pension insurance, medical insurance and social welfare system - and it seems that, for the moment, Slovenia still has one - the risk to the vast majority of elderly people is reduced to a minimum. Under these condition, it is considered that a seventy-year-old person requires the same kind of care as a forty-year-old person, and that a patronising attitude towards elderly people, simply because they have exceeded a certain conventional age limit, is superfluous. The question, therefore, as to whether the elderly can at all be dealt with as a single, undifferentiated social category, is still very relevant and, indeed, increasingly so (Svetlik,1989).

Social Security: Pension and Health Insurance
At the end of 1998, there were 474,862 pensioners in Slovenia, of which 276,764 were on old-age pensions, and the remainder on disability, family or farmer pensions (Institute for Pension and Disability Insurance, 2000). The total number of pensioners far exceed the number of people aged 65 years or more. By the end of 1996, 87.5% of all people aged 65+ were receiving pensions. The rest were receiving financial assistance and other contributions, or had not yet been classified as being socially threatened. In Slovenia, 92.8 percent of the people aged 65 years or more benefit from one of the public social security systems. The pension of most of the beneficiaries is higher than the minimum required for survival. »... the ageing factor of the elderly has had no significant influence on the funding of the two treasuries (pension and health) so far. This means that the full force of this influence will only be felt in years to come (Malacic, 1998).

Because of the sharp increase in the number of pensioners - which is not so much the result of an ageing population as the consequence of a misplaced policy of early retirement - an increasingly larger percentage of the gross domestic product is being diverted towards pension and health insurance (from 7.64% in 1985 to 14.89% in 1997), including funds for the compulsory health insurance for pensioners. The total obligations of pension and health insurance are expected to amount to one-quarter of the gross domestic product by 2040. The ratio between pensioners and insured persons was 1:3.00 in 1984, 1:2.15 in 1990, and 1:1.67 by 1998.

The reform of pension and health insurance was necessary for several reasons, which cannot be discussed in great detail at this point, but was only partially completed. The new Pension and Disability Insurance Act, which came into force on January 1 st, 2000, does not go far enough to fully implement the changes anticipated by the »white paper« launched at the beginning of the campaign for reform in this field. In comparison to the original proposal, the provisions that have been passed are far more moderate and gradual, and the sluggish harmonisation of pensions is taking place within a very long transitory period. The »white paper« anticipated a new method for determining the contributions rate for self employed persons, separate disability insurance, »flexible« superannuation, equal rights for both genders, and foremost, a system of funding that will be based on the three pillars of pension insurance. Only two of the anticipated changes have been fully implemented. A new minimum contributions base for self employed persons has been determined; changes to disability insurance include separate contributions for disability insurance and for injury at work or professional disease (valid only for employers). The difference between the retirement period for men and women was not nullified, but it was reduced; another novelty is that parenthood has replaced motherhood as a factor in determining the retirement period. »Flexible« superannuation has been introduced, but with more modest incentives for increasing the length of service than had been hoped for. The reform proposal also anticipated three types of pension and disability insurance; compulsory insurance based on intergeneration solidarity, insurance on the basis of pension savings accounts, and compulsory and voluntary additional insurance. Voluntary additional insurance has now been introduced alongside compulsory insurance: this paves the way for the establishment of privately-owned insurance organisations (pension mutual funds and public limited companies) to which insurance premiums shall be paid either by the insured persons or their employers, for which tax relief shall be granted. The new act attempts to compensate for the lowering of pensions by introducing additional insurance. The proposers of the act are of the opinion that a more radical reform will be required in the mid-term. Until then, we can only hope that we shall still be able to claim that the »position of pensioners in Slovenia is, in relative terms, the best in the world« (J. Mencinger, in: Stefanec, 1999), and that such a situation will not have adverse effects on the position of younger generations. When incorporating new funding, such as voluntary insurance, the financial position of the pensioners in the future - according to the expectations of the architects of the reform - should not change significantly (Development Programme…).

The Social Security and Health Insurance Act (12992,1993) reaffirmed health insurance and abolished the state-controlled system of health care. There have been changes in several fields: in the introduction of new providers and the obligations of the providers; in the network of health services providers (introduction of the private sector); in the introduction of contractual partner relations; in the introduction of compulsory and voluntary health insurance (Development Programme...). There is also greater emphasis on individual responsibility for one's own health. Supposedly, the primary reason for the reform is limited funding, considering, of course, the presumed allocation of the funding, which can be a bone of contention. We must remember that basic health insurance is an invention of the 20th century and that it signifies the »democratisation of survival and longevity« (Foelster, 1997).

It would seem, therefore, that despite the reforms and the streamlining of both social welfare systems, the latter still provide social security for elderly people.

Social Welfare for the Elderly
Changes in social welfare. Over the last few years, after the Social Welfare Act was passed in 1992, the following changes took place in the field of social welfare for the elderly (in order of importance according to my own judgement):

1. The state, by way of the relevant ministry, assumed its role, as defined by the Constitution and the Social Welfare Act, and began to establish legal, programme and organisational frameworks for the operation of a social welfare system, which, following the enactment of the Social Welfare Act, led to the enactment of by-laws (Standing Orders on Standards and Norms for Social Welfare Services) and to the adoption first of the National Social Welfare Programme up to 2005, and at the end of 1999 of the Programme for the Development of Institutional Care up to 2005 as well.

2. Streamlining Public Contributions and Services. This is occurring simultaneously with the rationalisation of public benefits and services, and the limitation of budget funding for other activities in this field (and activating the responsibility of local communities), as well as improvement of the internal organisation of public services and a heightening of its public accountability by introducing mechanisms for identifying needs, monitoring and supervision, evaluation, and strengthening the role of users.

3. Pluralising providers of social welfare means that the state, together with the Social Chamber as an association of professional workers in the field of social welfare, is attempting to encourage the participation of the private and non-governmental sectors, and to establish a system in which public services represent the backbone of a system onto which the private sector and non-governmental organisations that are expected to assume most of the services are attached.

4. The establishment of a social welfare network at local level is taking place simultaneously with the pluralisation process, because pluralisation can first be achieved within a local framework where the services are actually being rendered. A condition for the establishment of a local network of social security providers is the participation of the local communities, i.e. municipalities that must assume their responsibility and its share of contribution of funds to this cause. Such awareness has only just began. It is my hope, and development confirms it, that the »withdrawal of the state« does not extend beyond limiting budget funding and encouraging other sources of funding, not simply deferring the responsibility and encouraging, organising and supervising other providers. I think that in Slovenia, the maxim »Not only the family and the state are responsible for the social security of the elderly, but others as well - including the private business sector and nongovernmental organisations« is heard rather more often that the motto »Back to the family«, which has so often been criticised in the West, especially by the left wing.

Existing and Anticipated Help Network
The principles of social welfare for the elderly, as stated in the Programme for the Development of Social Welfare for the Elderly in Slovenia up to 2005, are modern and take into account the accomplishments of the endeavour to achieve a »society of all ages«, as well as the findings of the science of social work with elderly people (gerontoboetics). In accordance with these principles, we are bound to guarantee the integrity of the proceedings, autonomy of choice, equal access and spatial coverage, plurality of implementation, thriftiness, adaptability, and a link to the social environment, all of which are expected to guarantee a satisfactory standard of living for the elderly.

The social welfare network consists of the providers of public services (centres for social work, retirement homes, anticipated regional centres for help at home, providers of other public services within the living environment), providers in the private sector (which is developing too slowly), non-governmental and voluntary organisations, among which self help groups and organisations of pensioners and elderly people play a special role. This picture is completed by the informal sector - family, relatives, neighbourhood. A glance at a map shows a high concentration of public institutions; if we were to supplement this with functioning non-governemental organisations in municipalities or local communities, the map would become unintelligible. The duties and activities of individual providers of social welfare for elderly people are well understood and we shall therefore merely enumerate them. Centres for social work (of which there are 53 across Slovenia) are carrying out public mandates (allocating financial assistance, welfare of disabled persons, guardianship), social prevention services (self help groups for the elderly), social first aid services, personal assistance services, assistance to families at home and for the home, organising common activities. In addition to their basic activity, retirement homes (63 of them) also offer external services, including delivering meals to local population of elderly and nursing.

It should be emphasised that, with over 400 pensioner associations, pensioners in Slovenia have a well-developed system of self-organisation. There are many elderly people working voluntarily for the benefit of other elderly people, and we have an unique movement of self help groups and intergenerational groups (over 300 in 100 different places; Ramovs, 1992) under the professional guidance of the Institute for gerontopedagogics Anton Trstenjak. Despite the social trauma and significant changes that have taken place during this century, the informal sector still nurtures the norm that obliges children to care for their parents when the latter grow old, and that as long as it is able, the family provides assistance to the elderly.

A care network, as roughly described above, is not something basically new, but has been established over the last few decades. The last decade has seen the need for services in one's living environment become practice. The first limited attempts at introducing home help to the elderly date to the second half of the 1980s (Vojnovic, 1988). Today, several areas have organised household help, delivery of meals to the home, and in some places (urban centers) have centres for remote help, which have been enabled by telecommunications services, such as telephone help. It is, however, important that services in one's living environment have been defined in documents such as the Programme for the Development of Social Welfare for the Elderly up to 2005. The programme anticipates the development of day care in institutions (day centres), purchasing and building apartments for the elderly and pension apartments (guarded apartments, a hostel for elderly people, housing groups, group apartments), mobile forms of help (delivery of daily meals, transportation, etc.), services at home (from medical services and personal nursing, to household help and company). The respite care for family carers and help in dying are in development. Remote services, by way of telecommunications (security, emergency calls) have already been mentioned.

This overview of social care for the elderly within the framework of social welfare, which describes existing forms, some of the forms currently being implemented, and some of the anticipated forms, shows that there is hardly anything to add to the system of services. The network of public institutions has also been established for the most part, and in addition to a number of new retirement homes that have been planned, the only thing missing are regional centres for help at home. The Programme for the Development of Social Welfare for the Elderly up to 2005 proposes the establishment of centres for help at home as part of the network of public welfare services. The function of the centre would be to plan individual programmes of home care for individuals that would otherwise require institutionalised care; assess the needs for help at home; receive requests for help at home; offer counselling and advice; organise assistance; co-ordinate assistance; monitor and supervise help; animate services networks of the providers of help at home and expand the network of beneficiaries; analyse the status of help at home; strategically plan the expansion of the programme; connect the providers of social and health welfare services; help shape the national information system.

The centre would encourage self help, family, neighbourhood and other forms of mutual help and solidarity. Its activities would also relieve still active family members of the burden. The centre may also incorporate informal providers, non-governmental, private providers, charity organisations. The programme is expected to informationally and operationally unite the beneficiaries, providers and experts in social welfare for the elderly and health care. The centres are expected to take the form of organisational units of existing or newly-established institutions (retirement homes, centres for social work), and when this solution cannot be applied, as independent institutions as well. Individual centres would unite to create a network and a coordinated system (Development Programme..., 1997). The Centre for Social Work in Maribor (the 2nd largest city), for example, proposes that the Maribor regional centre for help at home includes: a unit for social care at home, a social service, emergency service, and a the co-ordination of the volunteer network for fulfilling the emotional, spiritual and social needs of elderly people (Majhenic,1999).

Providers from the private sector are, therefore, expected to join the network of providers over the next few years. When pluralisation is finally completed, the network too will be almost complete. However, there remains the question of its co-ordination and effective co-operation with various sectors (public, private, volunteer, informal) and subsystems (health, social security and others). This issue has also already been tackled in Slovenia. This is illustrated by the successful example of co-operation in the strategic planning of the social welfare of elderly people at local level in Maribor, where the City Municipality and the local Retirement Home organised a conference on the strategy for the development of organised help for old people in the wider Maribor area, held in November 1999. This was a good example of co-operation between different providers of social welfare at local level in planning care in the future.

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This is a conference paper prepared for "Intensive Program Socrate Erasmus" Coimbra, Portugal, March 12-16, 2001. Dr. Blaz Mesec is associate professor of the Methodology of Research in Social Work at the University College of Social Work, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and is presently the dean of the college.