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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, 2011).
A comprehensive diagnosis of the most important challenges in this area is included in the Departmental Programme “Youth Joined in Action 2016-2019” (Młodzież Solidarna w Działaniu na lata 2016-2019), which in May 2016 was changed to "Youth Joined in Action 2016" (Młodzież Solidarna w działaniu 2016). It should be noted, however, that it contains no estimate of the scale of NEET and that the diagnosis does not yet include the effects of the introduction of the “Family 500+” scheme (Rodzina 500+) (described in Section 4.6). The Programme highlighted the great diversity within the researched group, namely the youth, who as “an age group of 13 to 30 year olds is rarely studied as a whole (...) and is diverse – those who are in the formal education and those who had completed that stage have different needs. Also, pupils, students, girls, boys, youth groups from cities and from rural areas, all require a different approach”.
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;
- Relatively low, in comparison to other age groups, level of generalised social trust, including in politicians (which translated into weak interest in politics and public affairs and low or superficial participation in democratic and participatory processes at all levels). The low level of trust is also demonstrated by the discrepancy between the declarations that one should be sensitive and ready to help other people, on the one hand, and the low actual regard for the common good (including low or only one-time involvement in volunteering – a phenomenon described in Section 2.1) and the general weakening of the sense of social solidarity, rise of materialism and egocentricity, on the other hand. This is partly due to focusing on individual success (in life, in education and at work) and the lack of promotion of pro-social attitudes in the family or school. A study of attitudes towards old age conducted by the Centre for Public Opinion Research also indicates a sense of the growing generation gap;
- The poor physical condition of young people, caused by the low level of physical activity of young people – according to studies by the Central Statistical Office of Poland, 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 11.6% in 2011, and mainly concerned young people aged 18 to 24. 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 2018, ca. 71,800 children were living with foster families and in different types of institutions (emergency care, specialist therapeutic care, socialisation, multifunctional). It is a decrease by 1,1% in comparison with 2017. Of all the young people raised out of the natural family environment, in 2018 76,9% were raised in foster families (67,3% in 2007).
- 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. 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 (Ustawa z dn. 12 marca 2004 o pomocy społecznej (Dz.U.) of 2004, No. 64, item 593, as amended), 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.