Discriminatory and Inadequate Disability Pension System
Under the CRPD, the government of Iran is committed to “take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote” the realization of the right to an adequate standard of living and to the continuous improvement of living conditions for persons with disabilities and their families without discrimination on the basis of disability. Social protection programs and poverty reduction programs should be equally available to people with disabilities and should include assistance from the government with disability-related expenses.
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has expressed concern about limiting access for persons with disabilities to social protection benefits and subsidies based on poverty criteria or a financial assets test. While poverty reduction programs should include additional disability-related expenditures, disability-specific social protection programs should not be limited in scope to those living below the poverty line, but should also consider the extra costs, higher rates of unemployment, obstacles to education, and other factors that result in higher rates of poverty among people with disabilities.
Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights in Iran found several concerns regarding the current disability pension program. In the most recent Persian year 1396 (March 2017 to March 2018), after five years with no increase, the disability pension paid by the SWO increased to 1.48 million IrI ($39.36) per month.
The amount of the SWO disability pension is substantially less than other pensions paid under other social protection programs. For example, the pension paid to veterans with disabilities by FMVA is equal to or more than the minimum wage of 9.3 million Iri ($247.34) per month. This practice of paying significantly smaller pensions to people with disabilities registered with SWO is discriminatory, because it treats people with disabilities differently based on the cause of their disability and cannot be justified. The government should take immediate steps to ensure disability pensions paid by the SWO are equal to other types of social pensions.
According to the government, in 2016, 25 percent of persons with disabilities registered with the SWO, or about 321,000 people, received disability pensions. However, we found evidence indicating that many persons with disabilities are left out of this plan despite serious financial needs. According to the SWO, unemployment among persons with disabilities is 60 percent, much higher than the national average of 12.4 percent for the period of March 2016 to March 2017. In 2017, the head of the SWO acknowledged that 150,000 persons with disabilities were confirmed eligible to receive pensions but were still waiting to receive them. Some people we interviewed said that SWO staff inform people with disabilities that they will remain on waiting lists until another recipient becomes ineligible (finds a job, for example) or passes away.
The eligibility criteria for the disability pension are overly strict and exclude many who need support. Rather than considering the level of support each applicant needs to live an independent and dignified life, only those with disabilities “diagnosed to be severe or very severe” are eligible. The applicant also should not receive any other form of government support or have any income, no matter how small, and irrespective of whether the support they receive from other sources is adequate to meet their basic needs.
The current disability pension also fails to serve as meaningful financial support, being six times smaller than the official minimum wage. The minimum wage itself has been criticized as being too low by the head of the parliamentary commission and the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Yet, the government has yet to increase it to meet household needs. For the Persian year 1396, the minimum cost of household living expenses was nearly 24.9 million IrI ($662.23) per month, based on data provided by the National Central Bank and the Institute of Nutrition and Food Industry Research.
Persons with disabilities interviewed described the amount of disability pension as “trivial,” “ridiculously inadequate,” and “insulting.” Hassan, a 27-year-old man with a physical disability, said, “With this money, I even can’t afford living in the streets as a homeless person. I am fully dependent on my family. I feel I am no one.” People who received disability pensions also said the payment is irregular and may be delayed for weeks or months.
In a positive step, the 2018 Law to Protect Rights of Disabled Persons requires the government to “increase disability pensions paid to persons with severe or very severe disabilities who lack job and income up to the minimum wage level.”