Bulgaria’s overall performance on the Social Justice Index continues to place it among the European Union countries most urgently in need of policy reforms, the Bertelsmann Foundation said.
With a score of 4.19, Bulgaria ranks 26th out of 28 EU countries.
On four of the six social justice dimensions in the Bertelsmann Foundation study, Bulgaria ranks among the bottom fourth of countries.
“Most troubling, the country places last both in poverty prevention as well as social cohesion and non-discrimination,” the Foundation’s report said.
With regard to children and youth, Bulgaria places 27th on this subindex with a score of 3.81.
Bulgaria ranks highest on the Bertelsmann Foundation’s education dimension, albeit with only mediocre performance.
With a score of 6.23, the country ranks 14th on this dimension. As a percentage of GDP, public expenditure on pre-primary education totaled 1.05 per cent in 2014 (the most recent reported year), placing the country a commendable third.
In 2016, 82.3 per cent of the working-age population had attained at least an upper secondary education (rank: 14), a five percentage point improvement over 2007. Notwithstanding, the share in first-place Lithuania is 94.6 per cent.
“Bulgaria continues to struggle with reducing the number of early school-leavers,” the study found.
The number of 18-to-24-year olds who drop out of education or training, currently at 13.8 per cent (rank: 23), has fluctuated little since 2008.
The SGI country experts note “serious skill mismatches, with secondary and tertiary schools producing a surplus of people specialized in areas where labour demand is low, and severe deficits of people specialized in areas where demand is high, such as engineering and IT.
Also, the average Bulgarian student’s PISA results (440 in 2015) are more than 80 points below those of students in Estonia and Finland.
“Most worrying, Bulgaria places 25th with regard to the impact of socioeconomic factors on the PISA results of students. [T]he 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.”
While the Bulgarian government faces numerous major policy challenges, none is greater than keeping its population out of poverty (score: 1.39, rank: 28).
“Despite a 20 percentage point improvement compared to 2007, an alarming 40.4 per cent (2016) of Bulgarians remain at risk of poverty or social exclusion, the highest share in the EU.”
This rate remains over 25 percentage points higher than that seen in first place Czech Republic.
Within this at-risk population, 31.9 per cent do not have the financial means to afford fundamental necessities of daily life (e.g., an appropriately heated apartment or a telephone).
“Of greatest concern is the fact that, among the population at risk, seniors and children are faring the worst.”
The average Bulgarian senior faces a situation worse than that faced by their counterparts in all other EU countries: 45.9 per cent are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Of these seniors, 37.5 per cent suffer from severe material deprivation and 24.3 per cent are at risk of poverty.
“Similarly alarming, 45.6 per cent of Bulgarian children and youth are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, the second-highest rate in the EU.”
Among this at-risk population under 18 years of age, 36.1 per cent suffer from severe material deprivation and 31.9 per cent are at risk of poverty.
“Progress, however, can be seen: the incidence of severe material deprivation, among the sub-groups as well as the total population, is markedly lower than it was in 2008. Most significantly, the rate among seniors decreased by 30 percentage points.”
After years of downward movement, an upward trend in the domain of social justice is evident in the broad majority of EU member states, the Bertelsmann Foundation said.
“Although far from all member states have regained their pre-crisis levels, the most recent EU Social Justice Index data give cause for hope that the worst is over not just in economic terms, but also from a social perspective.”
At the top of this year’s Social Justice Index are the northern European states of Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Rounding out the top group are the Czech Republic, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, while Greece, despite again posting slight gains this year, remains clearly in last place, the Bertelsmann Foundation said.