* This story has been updated to clarify details on the social support system due to come into force in Abu Dhabi next year
Abu Dhabi’s government is set to introduce new income-based benefits for its citizens next year. However, under this system, financial support for the unemployed will be linked to job-seeking and ensuring those who are able, take up employment. Benefits will be given to those who can prove they are unable to work, a top government official has said.
UAE nationals in Abu Dhabi will have to register for eligibility for the new social support programme, which is separate from federal-level benefits. More details are set to be released on the nature of the new benefits, after the initial announcement of their introduction was made last summer.
Citizens will need to accept one of three offers of employment or lose eligibility for the new benefits, which are set to ensure everyone is contributing to society. The drive is not targeted at stay-at-home parents or people who are out of work for medical reasons.
“We don’t want a society that is dependent on social welfare," said Dr Mugheer Al Khaili, chairman of Abu Dhabi's new Department of Community Development. However, the department will also be creating a safety net for Emiratis in Abu Dhabi with limited income. The safety net is part of several initiatives announced by the Executive Committee of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council to drive the society pillar of the Abu Dhabi Development Accelerator Programme 'Ghadan 21'.
“We are committed to supporting Emiratis with limited income in the emirate by helping them lead productive lives,” Dr Al Khalili said. “We want our citizens in Abu Dhabi to benefit from the advances made by our city.”
Financial support for out-of-work Emiratis varies, but Dr Al Khaili gave the example of someone on Dh8,000 per month.
“You will find an Emirati on welfare receiving Dh8,000 per month. So we don’t want the attitude of 'why should I work since the salary I receive is only a few thousand more'", he said.
He said there is a concern that some take advantage of the available benefits, which for UAE nationals is on-par with wealthy European nations' social-security net.
“We don’t want a society that is dependent on social welfare," Dr Al Khaili said.
"In some countries, you have parents that are dependent on social welfare and then their children and then their children’s children, so entire generations of families on welfare. That is not what we want for the UAE."
Dr Al Khaili said there is a genuine drive in government to ensure all Emiratis have job opportunities and that officials are working to find vacancies for those out of work.
“We need to find jobs for Emiratis and not leave them dependent on social support if they are able to work," he said.
"Those able to work will be given a first and second chance – and by the third, we will stop the aid.
“What we are trying to do through social benefits is to support the people who are in need so that they have a safety net. We will make sure that nobody goes under the line which will be drawn by our department."
He said the aim is to "bring people back" and for UAE nationals to be "active".
“We need to prepare our society for the post-oil era and give incentives to people to work hard,” he said.
In April, the UAE Cabinet approved Dh11 billion in social assistance for low-income groups in the next three years.
Dr Al Khaili could not say how many UAE nationals are currently on welfare, but said that a “soon to be revealed” report will detail how many families receive government aid.
The most recent figures available, from 2013, show almost 39,000 people in Abu Dhabi received welfare payments, up from about 25,300 in 2011. At that time, the total value of aid grew from Dh665 million to Dh806m.
“We have a new approach where will look at families who depend on social welfare and not just the number of individuals receiving aid,” he said.
“We will start collecting data at the end of March next year. Today we have rough numbers, but it isn’t accurate.”
Dr Al Khalili was speaking after a forum to set out how to provide a 'dignified life for all members of society'.
“Our main aim is to meet the needs of all segments of society. When we give a service it is for a better life for everyone regardless of nationality," he said.
The official also said it is widely recognised that "expats here today support the economy and the UAE’s development" and that it is "our duty is to give them a comfortable life".
The department announced 85 initiatives that cover a wide range of areas in society.
Members of the country's Federal National Council have previously clashed over the level of welfare support that should be afforded to those out of work and retirees.
In 2012, the then minister of social affairs Mariam Al Roumi told members the government cannot not allow its citizens to fall into dependency, rejecting calls to extend unemployment benefits.
On Sunday, Hamad Al Rahoomi, who represents Dubai and has pushed for Emiratis to be offered jobs over expats, told The National he backed the move as long as it helps jobseekers.
“We don’t want a society that is dependent on welfare, so it is only logical to discontinue welfare once they find job – but you can’t expect them to work and support a family with a monthly income of Dh5,000 or Dh6,000," he said.
A minimum wage for Emiratis is set by the Abu Dhabi government at Dh10,000.
Social welfare starts from about Dh6,000 for unmarried Emiratis, but is higher for a married couple with dependents.
“Minimum wage should be both for the private and government sector if you expect Emiratis to go to the private sector and not remain dependent on welfare,” Mr Al Rahoomi said.
Sheikh Zayed, the country's Founding President, was a proponent of the ethos that everyone in society must contribute.
“The individual who is healthy and of a sound mind and body who does not work commits a crime against himself and society," he told a gathering of students and citizens in 2003, a year before his death.
"I want to see some of you become planters, doers, makers and workers – and not be satisfied only with holding down high positions.
"It is my duty as the leader of the young people of this country to encourage them to work and to exert themselves to be of service to the country."