4.8 Current debates and reforms
Poland is witnessing several discussions about the situation of the young generation. One concerns the implementation and effects of the “Family 500 +” scheme (described in Section 4.6 Access to Quality Services). Its main positive effects include substantial and rapid reduction in poverty, especially among children and adolescents, resulting in very high social support for the scheme. The major controversies are, however, about the actual and long-term impact of the scheme on improvement of the demographic situation, the mechanisms affecting primarily single parents, the possibility of fraud, the financial security of the State in the face of such high social security expenditures. According to the authors of the “Family 500+ - evaluation and proposed changes” report, the programme failed to increase the birth rate, pushed about 100 000 women out of the job market (mainly low-income, low-education women from small towns), increased social transfers and forced the introduction of new tax burdens. It is the result of the programme’s core assumptions, offering benefits to all families, regardless. of their financial situation. The authors indicate that only “37% of the programme expenses goes to poor families, and just 12% of funds committed by the state to 500+ would be enough to eliminate extreme poverty among children.”
An important voice in this discussion belongs to the view of social researchers that claim that the family-centric approach (central to the 500+ programme) can, within a few years, change into a relatively unimportant part of a family budget, especially in the light of high inflation. From this point of view, it would be more beneficial to enact children-centric policies, such as developing the network of public services that children use (mainly investing into education, free time, personal development). Such approach provides better opportunities for permanently freeing from poverty the children that grow up in the conditions of social exclusion.
A on-going challenge for social policy is found in the mass migration of Ukrainian population due to the Russian invasion in February 2022. Arrival of 2 million people, mostly women with children, leads to a need to create systemic solutions in the area of housing, labour market, health care, and education. Those people are mainly supported through actions by local governments, NGOs, and individual citizens (volunteers, donation-givers, and families accepting refugees into their homes). Cultural differences, however apparently insignificant, may pose a problem. According the report Hospitable Poland 2022+ “A low cultural distance is not synonymous with the absence of cultural differences which, even if small, should not be underestimated. Awareness of the existence of cultural differences and understanding them is important for Polish-Ukrainian relations, but also for appropriately addressed actions aimed at integrating Ukrainians into Polish society and preventing potential conflicts and misunderstandings. Examples of differences that will need to be tackled could include gender equality and the role of women and men in society.”
An additional challenge for integration of Ukrainian youth and children in Poland is a lack of a system to monitor their activity in education. According to the Amnesty International’s report We Are Here Together: Ukrainian students in Polish schools: (Jesteśmy tutaj razem. Uczniowie i uczennice z Ukrainy w polskich szkołach): “Towards the end of November 2022, in Polish educational facilities, there were 191 576 students from Ukraine who arrived since the 24th of February, 2022. At the same time, according to a response to an Amnesty International’s inquest, “the Ministry of Education and Science does not monitor the number of children that arrived from Ukraine since 24th of February, but who are not registered at Polish educational facilities”. The Ministry likewise does not collect information on the number of Ukrainian students who, while remaining as refugees in Poland, attend Ukrainian schools remotely. (...) As such, we do not know how many refugee students who fled Ukraine for Poland are currently outside of all education systems (...). According to the migration expert prof. Maciej Duszczyk, who based his estimation on the research of The Center of Citizenship Education, on the number of PESEL ID numbers, and data from Education Information System, there is around 150 to 200 thousand refugee children in Poland that are currently outside of the education system.”
The increasing ideological bent of the educational system, its constant reforms and attempts at making it subordinate to governmental institutions (including two attempts by the Ministry of Education and Science to pass an education law that would restrict the access of NGOs to schools and increase the power of government-appointed curators over school headmasters – both were vetoed by the president) leads to an increasing stratification in education. More and more parents send their children to private or social schools, or decide to homeschool their children using, e.g., the Open School system (Szkoła Otwarta). This trend can lead to an emergence of a permanent stratification and inequality in educational chances based on parents’ financial status.
2023 is an election year in Poland. The housing market, especially regarding youth people, will probably be one of the main issues of the electoral campaign. Other political parties present ideas that move in two general directions: subsidizing the purchase of the first apartment or subsidizing development of building housing projects with the idea of renting the apartments out, including by local governments.