Muscat – Ali Abdullah, 30, is part of an eight-member family attempting to eke out a living. Though he receives social security benefits from the government, these stipends fall short, and his meagre wage doesn’t come close to covering daily costs.
“The payment is not enough to meet the basic needs of my family for 15 days,” said Abdullah, whose father died recently.
Abdullah has a monthly income of 450 OMR, or $1,000. Every month, his earnings are steadily chipped away by bills, the financial needs of his family, and loan payments for a car. Though he has received social security payments on behalf of his father, he still struggles.
“My father’s social security salary, 274 OMR [$711], is not enough. I can hardly cover my loan, and monthly needs are making me unable to help out with my family,” Abdullah told Al Jazeera.
He added that what he receives can hardly rent a flat in Muscat, where the average rate is around 350 OMR, or $909. Fortunately for Abdullah, his family already owns a home in central Muscat. Without it, they would be forced to move to the peripheries of the capital.
Abdullah is among the 93 percent of Omani benefit recipients who are not able to meet basic needs, according to a recent official survey.
The study, conducted by the Ministry of Social Development, surveyed 178 families receiving benefit payments in each of the Sultanate’s governorates, aiming to analyse the effectiveness of payments and the satisfaction of recipients.
Research revealed that entitlements under the social security programme don’t meet the basic monthly needs of almost all of its claimants.
The ministry knows these families' condition, and it should look after them as a priority. It is not a favour provided to them by the government. It is their right to benefit from such services and programmes.
The social security system in Oman aims to protect families from disease, death, unemployment, and workplace accidents, and covers individuals ranging from fishermen and divorced women to accident victims.
Several schemes have been launched in the past few years to protect the welfare of those in need, but the government’s plans only scratch the surface of need among the country’s most vulnerable.
“I and my younger brother work, but our salaries are not enough to cover our monthly expenses,” said Abdullah. “In such a situation, I cannot think of getting married.”
In Oman, private sector employees receive an average salary of 500 OMR, or $1300.
According to a source at the Social Development ministry, statistics show that 84,000 families benefit from social security services in Oman. Among them, the majority – almost 60,000 – are elderly people. Other notably large groups include divorced women, who make up 12,000 of beneficiaries, and orphans, who make up 3,000.
“Almost 1,500 new families are enrolled in the social security records every year,” said a ministry source.
The minimum payment for social security is at the base level of 264 OMR, and the countrywide family welfare budget has grown considerably over the decades, rising to 130 million OMR in 2013.
Yet for many, the government-supported safety net does not ease the heavy strain of Oman’s cost of living.
“This amount was OK in 2011, but is not enough any more in 2015,” said Nasra Nasir, a 75-year-old social security recipient.
Benefit payment amounts should be reviewed every two years, she suggested.
“I completely depend on this salary, as I don’t have any other source of income,” she said. “It’s true that I have a working son, but he looks after his family and it is hard for him to manage both.”
Most of the families interviewed for the study depend exclusively on the social security income, revealed the ministry source. Though almost all these families receive free medical services, many said they must pay for water and electricity bills.
Moreover, many who receive payments remain unaware of other support services and programmes provided by the ministry.
“Forty-five percent of the families didn’t know about the exemption from court and lawyers’ fees. And 89 percent didn’t know about the financial support provided to them to establish a business,” said the source.
Oman’s Shura Council has called for an increase in the social security budget, acknowledging that 264 OMR is not enough for a family to survive for a month. “These families should be exempted from water and electricity bills,” read a council statement. Councillors also demanded an increase in the number of scholarships allocated to social security-claiming families.
As an advisory body, the Shura Council can only make recommendations to the government. It remains to be seen whether the government will choose to reform its social security system.
Khalid Hamdan, a social analyst, said that for some families there is no other option but to resort to begging.
“The ministry knows these families’ condition, and it should look after them as a priority,” said Hamdan.
“It is not a favour provided to them by the government,” he added. “It is their right to benefit from such services and programmes – and the ministry should understand that.”
Hamdan said also that the Shura Council should raise the issue again and again as time passes.
“This might take many years. The Shura should follow up with the government on the procedures it might come up with,” said Hamdan, adding that this has become one of the main priorities for the government to address.