World Bank: Roma inclusion in the Western Balkans needs focused intervention

A more integrated approach is needed to break down the numerous barriers that Roma face through the provision of essential services, social benefits, and focused interventions, says a new World Bank report, Breaking the Cycle of Roma Exclusion in the Western Balkans. The report examines Roma inclusion in the Western Balkans in five priority areas: education, labour markets, health, housing, and documentation.

The report uses data from the 2011 and 2017 rounds of the Regional Roma Survey (RRS), the most comprehensive survey to date on living conditions and human development outcomes among marginalized Roma households and their non-Roma neighbours, and finds that there have not been significant improvements in any of the priority areas.

“Gaps between Roma and their non-Roma neighbours remain wide, particularly in education and labour market indicators. This is particularly concerning because the gaps are between Roma and non-Roma neighbours, that is, households and individuals living within 300 meters of each other,” says report co-author, Monica Robayo. “We would expect both groups to have the same access to basic services such as education, health care, electricity, and water, as well as to the same labour markets. The survey finds that this is far from the case.”

The report argues that providing Roma with the same opportunities available to the general population is associated with potential fiscal gains, and that Roma inclusion is smart economics. In a region grappling with demographic aging, the benefits of Roma inclusion are not negligible and include the productivity gains associated with higher employment rates and labour earnings, including fiscal benefits like greater tax revenue and lower social assistance spending.

“Roma are a young population, and this youth bulge can be turned into a demographic dividend through proper investment in education and basic services,” says report co-author, Natalia Millan. “Closing the gaps found across the priority areas calls for a broader inclusion agenda that includes Roma-specific policies throughout the life-cycle from early childhood education to improved access to adequate housing and health services and labor market participation.”

High-quality data and research on Roma inclusion to inform evidence-based policies is scarce and this regional report aims to fill this knowledge gap and inform policy making. The report was funded through the Europe 2020 Trust Fund by the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) and was produced using data from the Regional Roma Survey (RRS), which was implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.