Human Trafficking in PolandThe Republic of Poland, located within central Europe, is one of the many European countries that human trafficking has affected. Human trafficking is a complex global issue that is extremely difficult to eliminate as it is often invisible and difficult for authorities to track. In Poland, children and women are common targets for traffickers. Victims often come from low-income areas and have little legal protection, making it easier for traffickers to transport victims to and from Poland. In order to eliminate human trafficking in Poland, the country must address underlying issues, such as poverty.

Underlying Problems

Women and children are the most common victims of human trafficking globally. Approximately 70% of trafficking victims are women and 50% of trafficking victims are children. Additionally, estimates have stated that traffickers traffick 84% of victims globally for the purpose of sexually exploiting them. Sexual exploitation is also the most common form of human trafficking in Poland. Trafficking victims may have limited education, may not be aware of signs of trafficking and may be in positions where they are desperate to help their families monetarily. As a result, they may be vulnerable to traffickers.

Poverty has a significant connection to trafficking. As of 2020, approximately 5% of Polish citizens were living in a state of extreme poverty. Individuals and families who live in extreme poverty are the most susceptible to becoming victims of human trafficking in Poland. They are often desperate for additional sources of income and traffickers often take advantage of this desperation. Traffickers frequently make false promises in order to lure in these vulnerable groups, such as saying they have a place of work for them that pays a substantial amount of money.

COVID-19’s Influence on Human Trafficking

Economic disparities due to the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted Poland. The Polish unemployment rate average was approximately 6% from 2020 to 2021, reflecting a large increase from Poland’s average unemployment rate of 3.2% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. Due to the fact that human trafficking is invisible and underreported, the exact numbers of global victims are difficult to determine. However, estimates have indicated that there are 109,216 trafficking victims globally. The COVID-19 pandemic may have influenced underreporting due to a lack of access to resources to inform the reports.

Additionally, the economic desperation of the COVID-19 pandemic has indirectly influenced an increase in the dangers of human trafficking. Traffickers are more likely to put their victims in more dangerous and violent situations so they can make a profit. Additionally, the fact that lockdowns have confined families to the home has made it difficult for people to notice and report potential cases of abuse and trafficking. As a result, victims are more vulnerable than before as lockdowns have made it easier for traffickers to veil their already hidden crimes.

Poland’s Efforts to Reduce Human Trafficking

The Polish government has actively taken measures to reduce human trafficking in Poland in recent years. This has involved passing laws that criminalize human trafficking as well as implementing various strategies that act against trafficking. Examples of such strategies include applying more effort to identify victims and traffickers and providing more in-depth training to authorities so that they can learn the signs of trafficking. Additionally, the Polish government has implemented national anti-trafficking projects countrywide. These projects aim to educate vulnerable individuals, especially Polish children, on the signs of human trafficking and what to do if they enter a threatening situation.

Non-governmental organizations within Poland have worked toward establishing consulting and intervention centers to help trafficking victims. La Strada Foundation against Trafficking and Slavery and Association Po MOC are two prominent organizations that have carried out the work of Poland’s National Consulting and Intervention Centre for Victims of Trafficking. These organizations have successfully established two shelters for female trafficking victims and intervention assistance for physical, mental and legal matters. Combined, these organizations have helped 630 Polish citizens and 746 foreigners from 2011 to 2017.

The Polish government has actively worked toward ending human trafficking in Poland through the establishment of organizations that help victims, laws that criminalize human trafficking and the implementation of anti-trafficking projects. Through these efforts of shedding awareness on the prevalence of human trafficking, individuals can become more aware of the warning signs and dangers of human trafficking in Poland and across the world.

Francesca Giuliano
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in PolandGlobally, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted those already struggling with poverty. Here is some information about the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Poland and the country’s response.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Poland

The COVID-19 pandemic increased income inequalities by reducing the employability of those with lower levels of education. For example, the populations who were already at a greater risk of poverty due to their positions in the labor market became more impoverished. In 2020, the poverty rate amounted to 5.2%, which is 1% higher than in 2019.

Prior to the virus reaching Poland, citizens expressed greater fear of the virus’ impact on the economy than its health effects. Given that less than 30% of Poles have any savings and a quarter of workers are in flexible forms of employment and do not receive coverage from unemployment insurance, the government’s reaction to COVID-19’s effects on the economy is crucial. In 2020, Poland’s economic activity showed a  decline of several percentage points for the first time in several decades.

In a survey that More in Common conducted, nearly half of the respondents stated that COVID-19 worsened their financial situation, with the 40 to 45 age range expressing the most concern. COVID-19 affected the hotel, catering and recreational industries the hardest as it prevented the industries from operating. Additionally, 70% of entrepreneurs reported that the pandemic reduced their income, which will inevitably affect their businesses and employees. In January 2021, Poland reported 6.5% unemployment, which is more than 3% higher than in 2019.

Poland’s Response

Poland acted fast and prepared the country before the first case of COVID-19 arrived, minimizing the pandemic’s effect. Poland closed borders and enforced strict quarantine measures before many other countries in Europe and the government put strategies in place to minimize economic impact despite having an unprepared health system.

On April 1, 2020, the Polish government introduced the Anti-Crisis Shield to provide employers and employees with solutions to cushion the impacts on employment. The Anti-Crisis Shield included more flexible employment, subsidized salaries of employees, gave loans to micro-entrepreneurs and gave sickness benefits to those required to quarantine. The government updated the Anti-Crisis Shield five times during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to cater to the industries and workers that suffered most, such as the cultural sector, the wood processing sector and the catering and transport industries.

Minimum Wages and Vulnerable Populations

Protecting income from work through implementing a minimum wage is an important factor in reducing poverty and minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Poland. In 2020, Poland increased the minimum wage by 11%. This change was crucial in order to prevent major changes in household income. Additionally, as COVID-19 led to more workers losing their jobs and wages, the government introduced temporary benefits to compensate for the loss. Still, the crisis had a greater effect on weaker regions of Poland and disadvantaged workers.

Even before COVID-19, people in rural areas of Poland were 11% more at risk of poverty than those in cities. The risk of poverty for women in Poland is higher than men, and due to COVID-19, the rate of women who had to stop working was almost twice the rate of men. Furthermore, the majority of healthcare workers at the frontline of the pandemic are women. This raises the question of whether or not the Polish government is doing enough to aid women during this crisis.

Learning and Growing Following Crisis

While COVID-19 brought many negative effects, it has also presented an opportunity to learn and use the pandemic as a catalyst for change. Globally, the pandemic highlighted the importance of quality governance and today’s technology offers the potential to optimize government functioning, resource allocation, efficiency and transparency. Projections determine that Poland will rebound from the pandemic with an expected economic growth of 3.3% in 2021.

In May 2021, Poland revealed the Polish Deal, an economic package to aid in recovering from the pandemic. The package focuses on improving economic and social systems with an aim to make systems more crisis-proof. The Polish Deal aims to bridge income gaps by supporting people with the lowest incomes and placing more of the tax burden on large companies and higher-income groups.

COVID-19 exposed weaknesses in Poland’s healthcare system, and by 2023, Poland plans to spend 6% of GDP on improved healthcare. Additionally, the Polish Deal plans to provide support for parents and homebuyers, reduce the tax burden on lower-income Poles and create more than 500,000 new jobs. Many of the jobs will come from infrastructural investments including plans to build a network of expressways, railroad lines, sports infrastructure and an airport.

The Road Ahead

Overall, the Polish Deal aims to build the foundation for developments that will help future generations earn more and work in better conditions. Poland is on the cusp of vast civilizational changes and the Polish Deal plans to assist in bringing about these improvements. Poland is still waiting to see the effects of its new policies, but in the meanwhile, the future looks promising.

– Jacqueline Zembek
Photo: Flickr

Tajikistan’s Response to COVID-19In February 2020, many countries arranged a summit to discuss how they would assist countries with weaker health care systems due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19 was one of the topics at the summit.

Tajikistan, a small country in Central Asia, is regarded by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the most impoverished countries. Primarily private out-of-pocket deals run the country’s health care system. According to the WHO, this process undermines the system’s ability to grow in equity, efficiency and quality.

Combating COVID-19

Tajikistan was one of the first countries to receive COVID-19 support. In April 2020,  the World Bank provided emergency relief to Tajikistan, along with aid from various other countries. The World Bank said that it is a continuous goal to strengthen Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19 by improving its health care system.

On June 7, 2020, Tajikistan received emergency medical teams (EMTs) and mobile laboratories from Poland, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. After this support, the country began to see an increase in COVID-19 contact tracing, testing and optimization of patient care. The EMTs gave Tajikistani health care workers advice on how to handle severe COVID-19 cases.

Tajikistan enacted a national COVID-19 laboratory upscale plan, and with help from international aid, the Tajikistan government established a Public Emergency Operations Center. On July 22, 2020, Russian lab experts arrived in the Central Asian country to help strengthen its data management system. Now, Tajikistan is seeing an increase in testing and staff capacity.

In addition, USAID donated $7.17 million to the Tajikistan government. Tajikistan used the funding to support migrants that traveled into the country. The country is also buying new, life-saving equipment and medical supplies. In April 2020, the USAID and other American organizations sent 58,620 kilograms of food to more than 100 health and social welfare institutions. These donations totaled approximately $171,000.

Further, the World Bank allocated $11.3 million to a grant for the Tajikistan Emergency COVID-19 Project. The project works to improve healthcare for Tajikistan’s citizens, sending funds to impoverished households and informing the public on COVID-19 safety measures.

Hope for Tajikistan

The Intensive Care Unit in Varzob, Tajikistan, was one of 10 hospitals chosen for refurbishment with funding from the World Bank. The hospital received upgraded medical equipment and supplies to strengthen Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19The Tajikistan hospital can now serve all district citizens instead of only private out-of-pocket citizens.

Several hospitals throughout Tajikistan received batches of medical equipment. Donations included 68 ICU ventilators, 68 ICU beds with patient monitors and 400,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.

According to the World Bank, 41% of Tajikistani households reported that they had to reduce food consumption, while 20% of families could not afford health care. With international funds, the Tajikistan government sent out one-time cash payments of 500 somonis to approximately 65,000 low-income families with children less than three years old.

In February 2021, Tajikistan received a grant for COVID-19 vaccines and to increase the oxygen supply in 15 of the country’s hospitals. Most of the funding went to Tajikistani patients suffering from COVID-19 to receive top-of-the-line care. Subsequently, the remaining grant money provided one-time cash assistance to an additional 70,000 poor households.

Future of Tajikistan

On June 16, 2021, the Asian Development Bank approved a grant of $25 million to strengthening Tajikistan’s response to COVID-19. This grant helped the country procure COVID-19 vaccines and improve its vaccination system. On the same date, Tajikistan created a goal to vaccinate about 62% of its population. This grant is one of many that allowed the country to strengthen its supply of medical equipment and care for the maximum number of high-risk COVID-19 patients.

As of July 9, 2021, Tajikistan has vaccinated 1.2% of the population, administering 223,648 doses. With help from international aid, the country is giving out approximately 9,273 doses each day. It will take more than 200 days to vaccinate 10% of the population, but Tajikistan is steadily recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

– Rachel Schilke
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Poland
Poland has been a NATO member since 1999. It was not until five years later in 2004 that Poland became a member of the European Union (E.U.) after signing the Accession Treaty. In addition, Poland has been a member of the Schengen area since 2007. Poland’s cooperation and membership in these intergovernmental organizations continue to benefit its economic condition. E.U. membership, in particular, stimulated Poland’s economy towards sustainable development and helped in the fall of poverty in Poland.

Economic Situation of Poland (After and Before Accession to the European Union)

After Poland’s accession, E.U. regional policy programs guided the country through many beneficial investments over the years. Through these investments, Poland was able to develop and maintain its infrastructure, economy, tourism, education, healthcare and governance. In order to eliminate disparities between its regions, the E.U. fund seeks to build a stronger economy, stable territorial lines and cohesion in the union. During the 2014-2020 programming period, Poland managed to enforce hundreds of projects.

According to data from 2003 until 2018, the economy of Poland is continuously improving. In 2003, a year before E.U. membership, the total value of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Poland was $477.94 billion. After five years of being a member of the E.U., Poland’s economic growth for 2009 was $760.35 billion. In this case, membership in the E.U. benefited the economy of the region. According to the European Commission’s 2012 Aging Report projects during 2010-2060, Poland will be the second-fastest-growing economy in the E.U., following Bulgaria.

The strong economic performance over the years led to the rapid rising of GDP per capita in Poland. Its GDP per capita has risen from $5,693 in 2003 to $15,565 in 2019. In 2004, the annual growth rate of GDP per capita was 17.35% in comparison to 2003. It is also important to mention that, in 2009, the annual growth rate of GDP per capita declined by -17.67% compared to the previous year. The economy of Poland was under tension in 2009 and another sizeable fall in numbers occurred in 2015. In 2014, GDP per capita was $14,348 and in 2015, it decreased to $12,572. However, from 2017 to 2019, the numbers increased. In fact, in 2019, the GDP per capita in Poland reached the highest point ever in the country’s history at $15,565.

Unemployment in Poland

Various indicators estimate a trend of decreasing poverty in Poland. The unemployment rate demonstrates this well. After Poland regained its independence, unemployment was one of the most pressing social and economic issues. E.U. membership contributed to the decline in the unemployment rate. Foreign investments and the funds from the E.U. financing programs decreased the percentage of unemployment and created new jobs. At the same time, the opening of the European labor market created job opportunities outside of Poland for the unemployed, subsequently aiding the fall of poverty in Poland.

From the beginning of 2003 to 2009, the unemployment rate decreased significantly in Poland. The unemployment rate decreased from 19.07% in 2004 to 3.47% in 2019. According to some economists, if Poland never joined as an E.U. member, they would be at the same level as Ukraine, which had a slightly higher GDP than Poland in 1990.

Conclusion

Poland underwent a successful transition from a communist-state background to a stable and competitive European country. One of the main reasons for their success is that Poland joined. In 2007-2013 and 2014-2020, Poland was the largest beneficiary of the E.U. funds. Investments helped Poland improve its transport infrastructure, health, education, environment efficiency, network infrastructure, social cohesion, research and development.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Poland
Over 1.3 million Polish households struggle to pay for electricity, hot water and heating. Energy poverty, broadly defined as the inability to secure basic energy needs, forces people to choose between risking adverse health effects from poor living conditions and reducing their consumption of basic goods, such as food and drink. Spurred by the E.U.’s ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 (from 1990 levels), Poland’s green transition will alleviate energy poverty within its borders. At first, the transition away from fossil fuels may increase energy costs and leave Poland’s 80,000 coal workers unemployed. Over time, however, renewable energy will lead to cheaper and cleaner energy and create more jobs than it makes obsolete. Investment in and support of renewable energy in Poland brings not only commercial benefits but also healthier and more affordable living conditions.

Energy Poverty in Poland

Energy poverty has been decreasing in Poland over the last decade and a half, but the COVID-19 pandemic risks temporarily reversing this trend. From 2007 to 2017, the percentage of people who were unable to adequately heat their living space decreased from 22.7% to 6%. From 2014 to 2017, the percentage of people falling behind on utility bill payments dropped from 14.4% to 8.5%. These figures are promising.

However, increases in Polish incomes, rather than updated energy infrastructures alone, also drove these trends. The “Family 500 plus” program, for example, has helped many Poles meet energy costs. The Law and Justice party established it in 2016 to provide 500PLN per child in monthly childcare benefits for all multi-child households and poorer single-child households. Energy sourcing patterns prevent a less rosy outlook: from 2013 to 2016, the share of electricity produced through renewable energy in Poland actually decreased, and coal still generates over 75% of Polish electricity.

Against this backdrop, COVID-19 and the government’s lockdown response have and will continue to strain people’s energy budgets: increasing the time people spend in a home in need of heating and decreasing people’s incomes by stalling the economy.

Policies and Programs in Poland

Poland has enacted a number of policies and programs in response to its over-reliance on coal. Through the Clean Air program, launched in 2018, Poland plans to invest $30 billion in clean heating. Many Poles still heat their homes through coal-fired furnaces, which emit harmful gasses into the air. Polish households use up 12 million tonnes of coal annually, around two-thirds of the E.U.’s total consumption. Every year, as many as 48,000 deaths in Poland result from poor air quality. By the end of 2020, the program had only removed about 70,000 of Poland’s three million coal-fired heating systems, but its investment efforts will continue until at least 2029.

There have also been social initiatives that have addressed the burden of polluting heating systems. The “FINE Power Engineering – Civic energy” initiative, for example, sets up social energy cooperatives that enable rural regions to become more energy independent. Launched by the Schneider Electric Foundation and Ashoka, an organization promoting social entrepreneurship, this program provides services such as helping communities set up solar panels for local energy production.

Renewable Energy in Poland

Although Poland still contains 36 of the 50 most polluted cities in Europe, recent foreign investment in renewable energy in Poland suggests a bright future for its green transition. The U.S., France and South Korea are in talks with Poland about investing in nuclear energy, one of the cleanest forms of power. A Danish company, Orsted, is jointly developing two offshore wind farms with PGE, Poland’s biggest power group. Internal politics have sometimes and may continue to complicate Poland’s shift away from coal. However, in the long term, Poland’s changing energy landscape, facilitated by domestic and foreign policies and investment, will lift many Poles out of energy poverty and raise their economic and health-related standards of living.

– Alexander Vanezis
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

How Air Pollution Affects Poverty in EuropeAir pollution is disproportionately affecting the health and well-being of people living in poverty, according to a recent report by the European Environment Agency. The report titled “Healthy environment, healthy lives: how the environment influences health and well-being in Europe,” calls for improving air quality in Europe by decreasing emissions and adding green spaces. Many consider air pollution to be an environmental issue or a global health concern that affects us all equally. However, the report makes the case that impoverished communities face a higher burden of air pollution and other environmental stressors.

The Link Between Air Pollution and Poverty

The Borgen Project held an interview with Catherine Ganzleben, head of the air pollution and environmental health groups at the European Environment Agency (EEA). She said, “Pollution hits poorer communities harder than affluent communities because of lack of access to medical care and exposure to the byproducts of climate change.”

As the climate crisis continues to worsen so does air pollution and extreme weather, disproportionately affecting those living in poverty. “In large parts of Europe, [vulnerable communities] are more likely to live next to busy roads or industrial areas,” Ganzleben said. “[They] face higher levels of exposure to air pollution.”

Even when both affluent and impoverished people experience the same exposure, air pollution affects the health of the impoverished more. Ganzlebe continued, “People living in lower-income regions [were found] to be more susceptible to the health effects of [pollutants] than wealthier people living in polluted areas.” Additionally, families with lower socio-economic status face more significant negative effects of pollution. Several factors could contribute to the disproportionate effects of air pollution. These include access to healthcare, underlying conditions and poor housing situations.

The Struggle for Clean Air in Poland

Traffic and industrial pollution are two of the main factors contributing to air pollution in Europe. But, in some countries, like Poland, the largest contributor to air pollution is burning coal to heat single-family households.

Poland is infamous for having one of the worst levels of air pollution in the European Union, according to K. Max Zhang in his interview with The Borgen Project. Zhang is a professor of energy and the environment at Cornell University. Poland still generates electricity and heat using coal, one of the most polluting forms of energy.

Poland’s reliance on coal can mainly be attributed to its abundance of old, single-family houses built in the 1970s. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Magdalena Kozlowska claimed that these homes remain unrenovated. She is the project coordinator of Polish Smog Alert. She also added that the most impoverished populations in Poland are less able to update their energy sources.

Polish Smog Alert is an organization that is committed to cleaning Poland’s air and meeting the European air quality standards through advocacy and mobilization. It also works to inform the public and help people make their houses more energy-efficient, Kozłowska said. The organization formed in 2013 when they started working to ban the burning of solid fuels in Krakow.

This ban on burning solid fuels came to fruition in 2019, when Polish Smog Alert worked with local and national governments to enact “changes in the national law [and the] city had to cooperate and offer money to exchange the boilers and help people experiencing poverty to pay the difference in bills,” Kozlowska continued. “And still, the city is doing that.”

Goals of the European Environment Agency’s Report

The attention to air quality around the world has been increasing in recent years. However, the EEA wants to see more policy changes and tangible action from the European government, Ganzleben said. These policies should also not have the sole aim of protecting the environment. In addition to environmental efforts, these policies should protect communities that are feeling the brunt of climate change’s effects. “Policies to deliver high environmental quality should be aimed at preventing and reducing the unequal distribution of environmental health risks, ensuring fair access to environmental resources and enabling sustainable choices,” said Ganzleben.

The report also explains the benefits of green spaces, even within polluted city environments. Green spaces, like parks and lakes, can benefit people’s well-being. “Mental and physical [health] are linked,” said Michael Brauer, professor of environmental health at the University of British Columbia, in an interview with The Borgen Project.

Reports like this one from the EEA, Brauer said, are a result of a growing urgency related to air pollution. In recent years, there has been much more attention globally to the issue, “[As a] response to increasing awareness of air pollution and the problem,” Brauer continued. “There is really no evidence of a safe level of air pollution.”

Combating Air Pollution’s Disproportionate Effect on the Poor

There need to be policy changes that address the socio-economic effects of climate change. This will alleviate the burden of air pollution on those living in poverty. “At the local level, integrating environmental health concerns into welfare policies, health policies and urban planning and housing policies can help to reduce the vulnerability and exposure of the population,” the report read. “Air pollution not only hurts the environment, but it also exacerbates poverty, and worsens the living conditions for the poor.” While humanitarian organizations like the Polish Smog Alert are working to alleviate pollution in Europe, there is still much to be done to eradicate air pollution and help those disproportionately experiencing the consequences of climate change.

– Laney Pope
Photo: Flickr 

The Rise of Minimum Wage and Automation in PolandWith the increase of minimum wage and workers becoming more expensive, Poland is automating its industries and investing in technology that risks dramatically raising prices and halting job growth.

Poland’s Increasing Minimum Wage

The Law and Justice (PiS) party, which rules Poland’s government, has vowed to increase Poland’s minimum wage to 4,000 zlotys monthly. In January 2020, Poland increased its minimum wage by 15% from last year to 2,600 zlotys. PiS plans to reach its goal of increasing Poland’s minimum wage by the end of 2023. This comes from PiS’s pledge in the “politics of dignity.” The pledge’s aim is to bring buying power into Polish hands so Poland’s economic model is similar to their western European neighbors.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the series of minimum wage hikes is an investment in Poland’s future as well as an effort to increase its prosperity. Yet, the minimum wage hike brings about unwelcome side-effects. Especially the rise of Poland’s automation. Industries are implementing automation in order to shed employees and the wage increase.

Aiding Poland’s Workers

Poland plans to spend EUR 247.2 million, a total of PLN 1.1 billion, on relief for firms investing in automation over the next five years. This plan includes a tax break for entrepreneurs, allowing a 50% reduction in costs for investments in Polish automation companies. A statistic of “42 robots per 1,000 employees is definitely not enough,” admits Development Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz. The level of industrial robots in Poland is lower than in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

The relief package looks to increase Poland’s automation levels as well as its economy, which Emilewicz believes is a condition for development. The rise of the minimum wage in Poland, its highest hike ever, will bring changes in wage dynamics among low-income workers. Companies will be expected to increase their remuneration to hold onto employees.

Krystian Jaworski, the senior economist at Credit Agricole CIB, mentions Poland’s minimum wage increase will impact inflation greatly. This remains true today as inflation came in at 3.4% in December last year, well above estimates in a Reuters poll. With the rise of Poland’s minimum wage, and PiS’s plan to further increase wages, Credit Agricole estimates the enterprise sector employment will be 3.5% lower in 2024. The loss equates to approximately 200,000 jobs.

Some companies are looking elsewhere in order to curb shedding their employees. Henryk Kaminski, who runs Kon-Plast, a manufacturing company, is “thinking of redesigning to get a better manufacturing cost” by limiting its use of plastic, which fulfills the factory sector’s aim on savings.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Poland
In 2016, child poverty in Poland was at a rate of 24.2%. The next year, the percentage of child poverty in Poland dropped to 17.9.

The Family 500+ Program

Although child poverty in Poland is declining, the country ranks in the middle among other E.U. countries. In large part, the country can thank the social policies that the Polish government has adopted, especially the Family 500+ program. This program benefits children where families with two or more children under the age of 18 receive PLN 500 per child monthly, regardless of income. Families with lower incomes receive the benefit for their first child as well. The program boosted additional financial support to about 12% of the average gross wage in 2016. The program shows a great increase in transfers to households living in poverty, as by design, it emerged to be supplementary to other social assistance programs and family benefits.

How the Program Helps

Although the World Bank has argued that the Family 500+ program could create undesirable outcomes, like female labor force participation, which would inhibit fertility rates within the country, the Family 500+ program is a tremendous aid to children in poverty in Poland. For instance, the Family 500+ program covers an estimated 55% of all children in Poland who fulfill the age requirement of being under the age of 18. Meanwhile, by the end of February 2017, the Family 500+ program covered more than 3.82 million children under the age of 18, totaling PLN 21 billion. This shows the Polish government’s commitment to alleviating child poverty in Poland, as the program has contributed to a dramatic increase in the government’s spending on children.

In addition to Poland’s new family benefits program that it launched in order to alleviate child poverty in Poland, the country has also increased efforts to boost birth rates through the program. According to a Eurostat report in 2015, Poland had one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe at a rate of 1.32 children per woman, placing Poland at the second-lowest, right after Portugal.

Success at Reducing Child Poverty in Poland

In a recent Oxfam report, which is an international charity based in Oxford, Poland placed 26th in the world for fighting inequality. In spite of this, Oxfam ranked Poland the best at utilizing social spending to fight poverty and alleviating child poverty in Poland. In fact, estimates have determined that Poland’s child poverty rate will reduce by 76%, because of the program’s cash transfers. Statistics Office shows a 13% to 15% increase in childbirth, as recorded in December 2016 and January 2017. Not only that, after the program’s introduction, rates of consumption and saving have increased and debt levels have decreased. This shows an increase in income which could, in effect, help to alleviate poverty in Poland as a whole.

The Family 500+ program proves to be a significant tool in eliminating child poverty in Poland.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Fighting for Women’s Rights in PolandPoland’s government is abandoning its commitment to fighting for women’s rights in Poland by pursuing to withdraw from its violence against women treaty. Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s justice minister, introduced a petition in July 2020 calling for Poland’s withdrawal from the landmark treaty.

Abandoning the Violence Against Women Treaty

Known as the Istanbul Convention, the treaty aimed at protecting women and girls from violence. Populist and nationalist governments target the Istanbul Convention, arguing it threatens “traditional families” for violence against women embedded within cultural traditions.

The head of the Law and Order party, otherwise known as PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, is the final judge of government policy and has publically stated that Poland must avoid Western values in order to maintain its traditional, Catholic culture.

Caroline Hickson, the Regional Director at International Planned Parenthood Europe, has mentioned women’s rights in Poland are “at stake as their support systems are taken apart through relentless attacks.” She adds that “women will be completely abandoned by the State with no safety net.”
Human rights activists and high-ranking politicians within Europe are fighting this proposition to abandon the treaty. Polish MEP Sylwia Spurek remarked last year that the new European Commission was “a year wasted both for human rights, for the rule of law and for the climate.”

Spurek has thus transferred to the Greens group in the European Parliament (the EU’s law-making branch), promoting the Greens’ progressive role within parliament. Spurek believes that all women in every European country must be guaranteed their rights regardless of conservative rules, “no matter how politicians […] talk about counteracting violence against women.”

Fighting for Women’s Rights

Poland has a history of fighting for democracy in the past decades. MEP Terry Reintke, speaking on behalf of the Greens group, notes that “now [the group] will have someone from Poland who can represent Polish citizens in the Green group.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is resisting the ultra-conservative efforts that harm women’s rights in Poland. While the PiS government subverts women’s rights in Poland, Morawiecki instead looks to avoid further hurting ties with the European Union (EU), noting Poland must be more pragmatic about its relations within the EU in order to avoid pressure and loss of funds.

Actions to Protect Women’s Rights

The political discourse that attacks women’s rights in Poland leaves women helpless and vulnerable. Currently, constructive talks are being held by experts from Europe’s leading human rights body, a group of Council of Europe, aiming to keep the treaty in place to protect women’s rights in Poland.

The group argues the Istanbul Convention does not seek “to be traditional or modern.” Instead, the group states the treaty looks to protect women’s rights in Poland.

The European Commission is also urging Poland not to leave the Istanbul Convention. The commission is concerned with Poland’s “step backward in time,” as Dutch MEP Samira Rafaela remarks. Helena Dalli, the equality commissioner of the EU, deems the convention “is the gold standard in terms of policy” in relation to women’s rights in Poland and globally. By mid-2021, Dalli petitions to make violence against women a “eurocrime,” in which the EU would instate minimum penalties for member states.

While Poland’s government has not yet made the decision to abandon the accord, the consideration still remains. Poland’s government members, the EU and humanitarian organizations must continue to fight for women’s rights in Poland. By protecting women and girls from violence, the country can take one step closer in gender equality, security and justice.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

hunger in PolandHunger and malnutrition continue to pose a huge threat to millions of individuals across the globe. Many do not think of Poland when it comes to hunger, but that doesn’t mean hunger doesn’t exist in the country. While thankfully the percent of individuals who suffer from hunger is rather low, a majority of those who do suffer from hunger and malnutrition are children. Here are five facts about hunger in Poland.

5 Facts About Hunger in Poland

  1. The percent of individuals in Poland living in hunger has been stagnant since 2000. As of 2017, Poland has seen 2.5% of its population living in hunger. While this is a huge feat on its own, this percent has not increased since 2000–Poland has had only 2.5% of its population live in hunger for almost two decades. This ranks Poland among countries with the lowest hunger rates.
  2.  Almost 120,000 children in Poland go to school hungry, according to a Polish foundation called A Piece of Heaven. By not having proper nourishment, students’ ability to perform well in both educational and extracurricular activities can be affected. Luckily, organizations such as A Piece of Heaven are dedicated to help improve the nutrition of Polish children. Most specifically, the organizations help children dealing with sickness and or living in poverty. Through their work, A Piece of Heaven has helped 150,000 individuals.
  3. 170,000 children in Poland suffer from malnutrition. While hunger may not be a large risk, malnutrition has affected Polish children at a higher rate. Malnutrition often poses a problem in rural areas of Poland, where poverty levels are higher. Because their families face financial afflictions, oftentimes nutritious food and resources are more difficult to acquire. Malnutrition in childhood can cause developmental irregularities in the central nervous system, struggles with mental health and underweight body mass.
  4. Much of the hunger in Poland is due to poverty. While of course poverty and hunger are not directly connected, Warsaw’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetic with Clinic of Metabolic Diseases and Gastroenterology has estimated that much of Poland’s hunger is due to poverty. They also suggest that poverty not only affects rates of hunger, but also malnutrition. Those living below the poverty line have limited access to more nutritionally balanced food with a higher price tag.
  5. 23,000 children living in Warsaw suffer from starvation. While Poland does have one of the lowest rates of hunger in the world, A Piece of Heaven estimates that tens of thousands of children go hungry each day in the nation’s capital. Because hunger in Poland does not pose a large issue in a global light, many are unaware of this tragic reality. Many of these children are living in poverty, though, and have little to no food with nutritional value.

While Poland has made great efforts to keep the percentage of individuals living in hunger down, there is more to be done. This is especially true for children living in poor, rural areas. Through help from organizations bringing food to malnourished and hungry children, hopefully Poland’s hunger rate that has stayed stagnant for so long can now begin to decrease even more.

Olivia Eaker
Photo: Flickr