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The Social Welfare Act (Ustawa o pomocy społecznej) delineates individual support procedures for persons over the age of 18 who are leaving facilities such as residential care for children and young people with intellectual disabilities, a home for mothers with small children and also pregnant women, a shelter for minors, a juvenile correctional facility, a special education and training centre, a special care centre, a youth centre for socio-therapy providing 24-hour care, or a youth care centre. Activities for the person gaining self-reliance are also aimed at their integration into the environment through community work; providing financial support in the form of cash for gaining independence and continuing education; help in obtaining appropriate housing conditions (including protected housing under supervision and assistance of a social worker) and getting a job; and in-kind assistance for settling in. The condition to receive support is a commitment on the part of the person gaining self-reliance to follow their individual plan towards becoming independent with the assistance of a social worker.
In Poland, housing support (implemented through the allocation of social and council housing), like most other aid programmes, is not age dependent, but means tested. At the same time, many documents refer to housing as a condition for gaining independence by the young generation and to the importance of adequate housing conditions for the development of children and adolescents. A separate programme is comprised of the activities undertaken within the Housing Society (Towarzystwa Budownictwa Mieszkaniowego), and under the “Housing for the Young” scheme (Mieszkanie dla Młodych), which provided support for the purchase of a first home on the primary market or the construction of a first home. Its beneficiaries were initially only young families (up to 35 years of age), but later also other people. The State covered 10% of the cost of buying an apartment measuring up to 50 sq. m for people without children and 15% for those with children. In addition, for the next 5 years families with at least 3 children could receive another 5%). Within the programme, over 110 thousand applications have been accepted, to a gross sum of 3 billion PLN. The last edition of the programme had taken place in 2018 and was replaced by the National Housing Programme “Housing Plus” (Mieszkanie Plus). It is a programme that offers apartments for rent with the possibility of purchase. It was intended to build affordable housing for rent and to set up special savings banks in which Poles could be putting money aside for their own apartment or house. For people with low income, there is also a system of housing allowances paid by the communes (gminy) as part of the social security system. Initially the programme was meant to offer low-rent apartments, currently it provides rent support. In 2019, the “Starting Apartment” (Mieszkanie na Start) programme has been introduced, which provides rent support up to 500 PLN.
As mentioned above, support for the youngest generation in the social security system is implemented primarily through support to families – some types of support are means tested, others are not, and there are also those which apply mixed criteria, including the most significant support at the moment within the framework of the “Family 500 +” scheme (Rodzina 500 +). Initially (from April 1st 2016) the benefit was granted for the second and each subsequent child, without any additional conditions, and also for families with a first or only child who have a net monthly income of less than PLN 800. For families with a child with disabilities, the income criterion is higher and amounts to PLN 1,200 net, and additional support in the amount of PLN 500 per child is also received by foster families and by family-type children’s homes under the Act on Family Support and Foster Care System. Those rules have been changed, and starting from July 1st 2019, the benefit is granted for every child up to the age of 18, regardless of the family income. Importantly, the “Family 500 +” parenting benefit is not included in one’s income for the purposes of social welfare benefits, child maintenance funds, family benefits or housing allowances.
Other essential elements of the family support system include: (1) family benefit for parents, one of the parents, or legal or actual guardian of the child, which is means tested (“a zloty for a zloty” rule applies) and is available in relation to children under the age of 18, or 21 if the child continues to attend school and 24 if the child is disabled and continues to attend school or a higher education institution; (2) allowances in addition to the family benefit, such as for the education and rehabilitation of a child with a disability (to cover the increased rehabilitation or education expenses), for raising a child in a large family (third and subsequent children), for a child learning outside of their place of residence, or for single parenting; (3) one off childbirth benefit and parental benefit, which is available for a period of 52 weeks or longer in special cases provided for by law.
Family benefit system is complemented by the programme “Good Start ” – a grant for all students are commencing the school year. It is granted to every student up to the age of 20 (24 in cases of disability), regardless of the family income. It is valued at 300 PLN. A system of discounts for family with 3 or more children has also been introduced under the name of “Large Family Card”.
A direct form of assistance for young people is support for the unemployed – a person who had worked for 365 days during the last 18 months and received at least the minimum wage may receive the unemployment benefit. Other forms of support for the unemployed include training, job announcements, and subsidies to start a business (mainly through EU funds) – but young people are often prevented from obtaining such benefits due to lack of employment history. Another form of support in the labour market is vocational counselling, which in Poland is provided within the framework of activities being part of (1) educational policy – at psychological and pedagogical counselling centres operating in the education system; (2) higher education – through Student Career Centres (Akademickie Biura Karier); (3) labour market policy – targeted to persons registered as unemployed and implemented by units of public employment services: the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy, Career Information and Planning centres (functioning within Province Employment Offices), District Employment Offices, and Voluntary Labour Corps (Ochotnicze Hufce Pracy) – as described in Section 4.7.
For most young people – until the age of 18, and for those continuing education, until the age of 26 (and older, if they are registered as unemployed) – Poland offers free medical care. There is a separate specialist network of hospitals dedicated to people up to the age of 18 – they are also entitled to free meals and accommodation in children’s hospitals in health resorts, children’s sanatoria, and sanatoria (for children with significant disabilities, there is no age limit). In 2016, the Act on Support of Pregnant Women and Families – “For Life” (Za życiem) came into force, under which persons under the age of 18 with a certificate of severe and irreversible disability or incurable and life-threatening disease that arose in the prenatal period or at the time of birth have the right to receive services without being placed on waiting lists.
Financial services dedicated to young people are related to the programmes described in Section 4.6.1, enabling them to obtain independent accommodation.
In Poland, there is no separate nationwide system for monitoring and quality assurance (evaluation) of the support described in Section 4.6. Assessments and evaluations are conducted either for the purpose of specific projects, e.g. targeted at beneficiaries eligible for particular types of services, by the institutions providing the services (often at the level of local government units), or as part of broad assistance programmes, usually when it is a requirement resulting from co-financing from European funds.