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The threat of social exclusion faced by young people should be considered in many dimensions: starting with financial exclusion, which frequently goes hand in hand with addictions, violence, unemployment, and inferior living conditions (often resulting in school failure of young people and poorer functioning in the community), to lack of opportunity or even lack of choice, to far-reaching consequences that disconnect young people from the entire sphere of higher education, career, or social life. The phenomenon of exclusion reinforces the process of inheritance of poverty, which potentially leads to young people repeating the life scenarios of their parents and guardians (Warzywoda-Kruszyńska, Kruszyński).
A comprehensive diagnosis of the most important challenges in this area is included in the National Programme for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, Updated for 2021-2027, public policy for years up to 2030 (Krajowy Program Przeciwdziałania Ubóstwu i Wykluczeniu Społecznemu. Aktualizacja 2021–2027, polityka publiczna z perspektywą do roku 2030). A comprehensive diagnosis of the most important challenges in this area is included in the National Programme for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion, Updated for 2021-2027, public policy for years up to 2030. Between 2012 and 2019, the number of children aged 0 to 17 living in homes at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) decreased by half. However, around a million children in that age live within that risk. Around 172 000 children suffer from severe material deprivation (SMD). This affects children in incomplete families most of all (10% children in such families) and in multi-children families (3.5% children in those families). Another social group touched by poverty and social exclusion are children and youth with disabilities. Among homes with at least one child up to the age of 16 with a disability diagnosis we see a notably higher rate of economic poverty.
Access to care for children aged 1 to 3 keeps improving, but the 33% rate that was selected as a goal for the year 2020 has still not been reached. Currently, this goal has been moved to year 2030.
Education system in Poland provides access to education to all groups of children and youth. The number of children requiring help in the education process keeps growing. In school year 2016-2017 school year, special education was extended to 184 000 students with various kinds of disabilities. In 2020-2021, this number increased to 225 000.
In the context of older children and youth (ages 15 to 24), importance is on moving from education to the workplace. The phenomenon of people not in education, employment or training (NEET) is worrying. In Poland, the NEET rate for 2020 was 8.6%, translation to around 300 000 people in such a position.
The main problems affecting young people which can potentially contribute to their social exclusion include:
- Searching for their identity in adolescence, shaping their own personality and world view. Lack of financial stability, lack of access to professional support, and lack of attractive opportunities to shape their own, as well as national or local, identity are a significant impediment to this process;
- The poor physical condition of young people, caused by the low level of physical activity of young people – according to study from 2018 the “most common risk factor for future health issues, present in all researched groups, is an insufficient level of physical activity.” This problem increases in age. Among young people, obesity and overweight are also problems, affecting around 30% of the researched population. However, “insufficient attention is paid to low body mass problems in the child population. It shows up in 14% of children aged 7-9 and among early adolescent youth (12-14 years), which compared to the referential value of 3 to 5% suggests a concerning result.” An overwhelming majority of leisure time is spent on activities that do not require movement and physical effort (the reason are alleged to be the low quality of physical education at school and the dominance of alternative non-physical ways of spending free time) as well as poor eating habits (leading to being overweight and/or deficiencies) and insufficient sleep.
- Disability – young people with disabilities are a diverse group, both in terms of the type and degree of disability, and in terms of social, educational and professional activity;
- Poor mental condition of the young generation, including depression and eating disorders – one of the indicators is the increase in suicide rates among children and adolescents. Other manifestations include dysfunctional use of the Internet (including addiction), leading to attention disorders or aggressive behaviour, and substance dependence (nicotine, alcohol and drugs);
- Low level of cultural activity among young people: poor participation in extracurricular activities, decrease in book readership, decreased interest in the offer of cultural institutions and participation in amateur artistic movements;
- The difficult situation of young people in the labour market due to lack of professional experience and low qualifications, and lack of skills and readiness to adapt them to the requirements of a dynamically changing labour market, low level of key competences useful in professional work (including the ability to show initiative and entrepreneurship, co-operation with others, and communication), low job security and undeveloped social capital in potential workplaces. In this context, it seems important to fill the gap in the educational offer (formal, non-formal and informal) with proposals aimed at developing competences highly valued by employers. Young people are often offered employment on the basis of civil law contracts or temporary contracts only, which means that they are less protected against dismissal, and this, in turn, creates a precarious employment situation for such people and thus prevents them from making long-term financial commitments (taking out a mortgage to buy a home) and private commitments (for example, this delays the process of starting a family and the decision to have children). As a consequence, they are reluctant to ‘fly the nest’ and end up living with their parents until they are 30, thus becoming independent increasingly late. The biggest concern is the phenomenon of staying outside of employment, education or training (NEET). In Poland, the percentage of young people in that situation was estimated at 14,9% in 2016, and mainly concerned young people aged 18 to 24. Analogous rate for 2020 was 8.6%. Being a member of the NEET group not only results in reinforcement of negative patterns in professional life, but also translates into lower trust – including in institutions, less interest and involvement in public affairs (e.g. participation in elections) and less involvement in social issues (including membership in organisations);
- Being raised out of the natural family environment: in 2019, ca. 72 450 were living with foster families and in different types of institutions (emergency care, specialist therapeutic care, socialisation, multifunctional). It is a increase by 0,9% in comparison with 2018. Of all the young people raised out of the natural family environment, in 2019 77% were raised in foster families (67,3% in 2007).
- In 2018, over 2 million people aged 24 to 34 lived with at least one of their parents. As such, 36% of young adults are living with their parents.
- Large families and incomplete families as factors which can potentially lead to financial problems and thus exclusion (as evidenced by poverty risk or social exclusion indicators in EU 27). Poverty risk increases with the size of the household and is highest in families with three or more dependent children. A comparatively difficult situation is faced by incomplete families; furthermore, problems associated with poverty and exclusion have a particular effect on children and young people with varying degrees of disability. The significance of those risk factors increases markedly in the context of the low effectiveness of the support system for large families, which may exacerbate the concerns of young people about having children and severely limit the ability of families who have decided to have children to properly perform their functions as carers. In addition to single parenting and large families, teenage motherhood should also be given due regard. Although the general trend has been in decline since 2008, it has been growing in the case of very young mothers. The financial and non-financial status of children tends to be the same as that of the families and communities in which they are born and in which they grow up. This obvious fact gives rise to the risk of repeating the inequalities in subsequent generations. Children from wealthy and included families become wealthy and included adults, while children growing up in poor and marginalised families remain in the same situation as their parents. According to the methodology adopted for the purposes of the Europe 2020 strategy, over 2.1 million children in Poland (aged 0 to 17) are poor or excluded. This accounted for about 30% of children in this age group. Despite the declining number of poor or excluded children, this figure is obviously still unacceptable. Since 2016, a majority of the population groups taken into consideration has seen a decline in extreme poverty, with the greatest improvement in this regard being among children aged 0 to 17 and large families. The decline slowed down in 2018, and extreme poverty increased again, including among children age 0-17 and large families.
The concept of social exclusion is not explicitly defined in Polish law, even in the Social Welfare Act (Social Welfare Act, Journal of Laws (Dz.U.) of 2004, No. 64, item 593, as amended – Ustawa z dnia 12 marca 2004 r. o pomocy społecznej), despite the fact it mentions counteracting this phenomenon, while emphasising the role of integrating people and families into their environment (as a goal parallel with self-reliance). Social exclusion sometimes coincides with relative poverty, understood as forced non-fulfilment of those needs that determine the quality of human functioning in a society; in Poland, social exclusion (and thus integration) is primarily thought of in the context of poverty, therefore the aim of integration schemes is to bring individuals back into the labour market so that they can improve their economic situation. Official documents very rarely make direct reference to exclusion stemming from different nationalities and/or belief systems, disabilities and any other social differentiations, which is largely a derivative of the homogeneity of Polish society.
Another issue concerns the way socially excluded groups, or groups facing such a risk, are distinguished – in Polish legislation they are generally not segregated according to the age criterion (except for the oldest generation). As a consequence, social integration of the young generation is also distinguished only in the context of the labour market, and poverty is perceived primarily from the perspective of the family, even if it affects mainly children and adolescents. As a result, young people’s poverty appears in the public discourse primarily in the context of becoming self-reliant, including entry into the labour market and access to housing.