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

Healthcare in Poland
Poland is an eastern European country between Belarus and Ukraine. As a member of the European Union, Poland enjoys many benefits and privileges. Many consider the eastern European country’s economy one of the most developed in Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, its Human Development Index (HDI) score is around .872, which is very high. Additionally, Poland has a successful universal healthcare system, although it has experienced challenges. Here is some information about healthcare in Poland.

Universal Healthcare

Nearly all European countries have free and universal healthcare, and Poland is no exception. The country offers a free public healthcare system in which every Polish and E.U. resident has the right to accessible healthcare, supported by the National Health Fund. The organization’s funding consists of a mandatory contribution from every Polish citizen: an 8.5% deduction from individual income. These deductions are the main source of funding for public and free health insurance. However, Poland does offer private health insurance as well. As of 2017, 91% of Poland’s population has insurance.

Flaws in Polish Healthcare 

Although Poland’s healthcare coverage is impressive, organizational problems, politics, underfunding and outdated technology still plague the system. The percentage of the population that has insurance is high, at 91%, but this is still lower than in many other European countries. Poland’s organizational structure is also incredibly understaffed in physicians, and especially specialists. Under the current Polish government, funding for the National Health Fund is also converting into a federal budget funding system, further complicating the bureaucracy of Polish healthcare. 

Income Inequality and Health

Another problem that plagues healthcare in Poland is the disparity of health between high income- and low-income groups. According to Poland’s 2017 health profile, 71% of high-income citizens report that they are in good health while only 53% of low-income citizens state the same. This 18 point difference is sizeable, considering Poland’s population. Poland’s life expectancy rate is also lower than most European countries, ranking 24th in the E.U. at around 77.5 years. With the improvement of its healthcare system, Poland has the potential to increase its life expectancy and decrease the health gap.

Poland’s healthcare system is effective in providing basic primary care to its residents. One can attribute this to both the improved treatment for cardiovascular disease– the leading cause of death in Poland–and the centralization of Poland’s healthcare system since 1999. However, the nation must prioritize the improvement of its organizational structure and funding system to continue to benefit its citizens.

Poland’s healthcare system is keeping most citizens healthy, but there are further improvements necessary in order for the current system to increase efficiency and reach beyond-average higher standards of health. Healthcare in Poland may not currently live up to the standards of other western European countries, but it has the potential to improve its healthcare structure to compete with and possibly surpass them in the future, considering its relative economic stability. In pursuit of this goal, Poland is taking steps to improve its healthcare system. The Polish Ministry of Health has begun using electronic prescriptions and other e-health technologies to improve coordination between hospitals, physicians and patients. The Ministry is also working on plans to further increase the number of physicians and specialists available in the public sector. Such reforms are essential to remaining competitive with other European countries.

Sadat Tashin
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Poland
Poland is a parliamentary republic in Central Europe. The country was a formal satellite state of the Soviet Union until it gained full sovereignty in 1989 after the country’s free election. During the early 1990s, the Polish government implemented the “Shock Therapy,” or Plan Balcerowicza in Polish, program to vitalize the country’s economy. The program succeeded, bringing Poland’s GDP from 65.978 Billion in 1990 to 533.816 Billion in 2008. While this rapid increase in the country’s GDP fluctuated throughout the 2010s, Poland’s economy is still growing. Despite this massive economic growth, poverty in Poland is an issue that demands the Polish government’s attention.

What is Energy Poverty?

Energy poverty is one factor that contributes to the state of poverty in Poland. Energy poverty refers to a situation where a household has difficulty in heating their homes or has limitations in using electrical household appliances because they can’t get access to a stable power grid. While energy poverty is an unfamiliar term to many countries, including in Poland, there are reports that suggest Polish citizens often suffer from it.

The definition of energy poverty can also change depending on if the country suffering from it is a developed country or a developing nation. In developing countries, energy poverty refers to a lack of access to electricity because of the country’s gaps in electrical infrastructures. In developed countries, such as Poland, energy poverty refers to a household’s lack of access to electricity because of their financial limitations. The United Kingdom, which is currently the only country that has an operational definition of energy poverty, states that a household is energy poor if their required energy costs are higher than 10% of its disposable income.

According to the U.K.’s definition, researchers found that 40% of Polish households were energy poor in 2012. Given Poland’s three-month-long severe winter temperatures, which can drop to -32 degrees Celsius (or -4 degrees Fahrenheit), this factor can jeopardize the health of many Polish households that suffer from energy poverty.

Not only can energy poverty cause reduced immunity, elevated incidence of respiratory system diseases and weight gain in children, but it can also have a negative impact on the mental well-being of adults. In extreme situations, fatal cases of hypothermia can also occur. Ryszard, a Polish worker who was interviewed by The World Bank in 2014, stated that the majority of his monthly $500 payment is used to heat his apartment and to buy food for him and his daughter.

The Ups and Downs of Unemployment

Despite Poland’s continuous drop in the unemployment rate, youth unemployment still contributes to the rate of poverty in Poland. Poland’s unemployment rate, which was 10.32% in 2013, sharply dropped to 3.84% in 2018. Eurostat, a statistics website, noted that Poland had the largest decrease in the unemployment rate within the E.U. between 2005 and 2019.

However, Polish youth securing stable, long-term employment is still challenging. According to the World Bank, Poland’s youth unemployment was 25%, which was higher than the national unemployment of 14%.

Even when young people in Poland are able to secure employment, the usually secure temporary contracts that pay little and have no social and economic security. In 2014, when the World Bank article was written, an estimated 27% of employed Poles worked as temporary contracts. These temporary, low-paying jobs leave many households in Poland in danger of poverty.

Helping Hands

The Polish government and many other organizations are working to address the current state of poverty in Poland. Habitat for humanity launched an advocacy project in 2017 to prevent and alleviate energy poverty in Poland. The project aims to alleviate energy poverty in Poland by developing and mobilizing a prevention group that will gather and systemize information about it.

Izodom 2000, a company based in Poland, is building energy-saving houses that can help Polish households save on their heating bills. The Polish government also conducts spending programs that support low-income families. These assistance programs constitute approximately 2% of Poland’s GDP. While the World Bank states that Poland’s multiple social assistance programs are helpful, they added that Poland’s programs could be expanded to mirror that of the programs in Germany and Hungary.

Poverty in Poland has many aspects. From energy poverty to youth unemployment, multiple factors contribute to poverty in Poland. Improving and building energy-efficient housings for Polish families and creating stable jobs for the Polish youth is no small task. However, there are many organizations and people that are facing this challenge head-on. The Polish government conducts multiple social assistance programs and many other nonprofit organizations work to improve the lives of many Polish citizens.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Poland’s Rising Homeless Population
When one first looks at the statistics of Poland’s homeless population and rates, it does not appear as bad as other Eastern European countries. Unfortunately, it is quite hazardous to be homeless in Poland. With deadly cold weather during the winter and spring, along with few programs to help solve this problem, many who live or come to this country make it a point to avoid living on the streets. Here are seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population.

7 Facts About Poland’s Rising Homeless Population

  1. Homeless Statistics: Many of the homelessness statistics appear outdated and inconclusively gathered. The Polish government had announced that there were around 33,408 homeless people within the country. Many, however, believe that these statistics have grossly underexaggerated this number and that the actual number is much higher.
  2. Homelessness Duration: One of the more damaging statistics to the homeless situation is that not only is the number of homeless growing in Poland, but people are staying homeless for longer durations. In 2017, records determined that around 25 percent of the homeless population were staying homeless for over 10 years with no sign of their situation improving. More people within the country are finding themselves homeless for longer durations, in spite of emergency care and other NGO programs.
  3. People Who Are Homeless: The homeless population does not comprise of just Polish citizens. It also includes asylum seekers and refugees, with most hailing from Chechnya. Many of these Chechen refugees and asylum seekers are seeking a safe haven from persecution within their homelands, and have actually gotten along well with other homeless in Poland.
  4. Rising House Prices: A large reason for the rising homeless rates is the rising housing prices, not just in Poland, but within Europe in general. Large cities within Poland such as Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk have seen a 7.11 percent increase in prices. This is mostly due to low supply, high demand and a decline in low-cost housing among young adults. This may be good for homeowners and real estate investors, but it is to the detriment of those who cannot afford the rising housing prices. Out of the seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population, this might be one of the most impactful.
  5. Housing Program: A housing program that allows for subsidies to housing within cities could give the homeless a chance to live in a training flat that the Camillian Mission for Social Assistance runs. Unfortunately, this program does not cover medical costs which can lead to a person’s inability to work, and in turn, make them unable to pay what they need to stay in the aforementioned flats. This program has not released a success rate, but some believe that it is lowering every year.
  6. Health Care: Another crippling factor for the homeless population is other faulty social programs that cannot properly support the population. Accessing health services for the homeless is difficult mainly because of bureaucratic requirements that homeless people cannot meet more often than not because of their situations. In 2018, however, the government put a new law into place that allowed it to cancel its requirements for health care so that Polish citizens could receive free health care that the state budget paid for.
  7. NGO and Community Programs: After analyzing the situation, the E.U. has concluded that Poland’s situation is similar to the Portuguese. The E.U.’s analytics since 2018 have deduced that although Poland had put programs in place to try and deal with the issue of homelessness, around 90 percent of services that people receive come via NGOs and other community groups that receive financing from local authorities. The NGOs, however, do not help fix the problem of reintegrating the homeless into a liveable situation, as they are more equipped for emergency situations.

As these seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population shows, the Polish government is trying to help those who find themselves down on their luck, but the problem has festered due to inefficient programs. Though these programs clearly aim to help people in dire situations, they do little to solve the overall problem of keeping people off of the streets. The country will clearly appreciate help from the E.U., but the way Poland uses the money will determine people’s fates.

Collin Williams
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Poland

Of all the countries comprising the EU, Poland has one of the lowest life expectancy rates, ranking 22 out of 28. With a population of 38,420,687 people and an average life expectancy of 77 years, Poland has been facing healthcare problems for years. In the past two decades, several reform programs have been implemented to address these issues and life expectancy is on the rise. These top 10 facts about life expectancy in Poland describe the issues Polish citizens are facing and the lengths the Ministry of Health is going to in order to help.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Poland

  1. Life expectancy in Poland has risen consistently over the past several years. In 2014, the life expectancy for men was 73 years and for women it was 81 years. This is an increase of about four years for both men and women since the year 2000.
  2. Poland still ranks lower than average for life expectancy among other European countries. The average life expectancy of the EU is 78 years for men and 84 years for women. This discrepancy with the Polish population could be due to high tobacco and alcohol usage, obesity and various socioeconomic influences, with 36 percent of overall health issues being traced back to these factors.
  3. Polish people are 60 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than the rest of Europe. Among the population, cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 40 to 50 percent of deaths and cancer is responsible for an average of 25 percent. In 2015, Poland introduced a 10-year cancer strategy focusing on prevention, diagnosis, treatment and improving quality of life.
  4. With 6.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people, Poland ranks higher than the EU average for accessibility. However, there are only 5.2 nurses and 2.3 physicians practicing per 1,000 people, which ranks among the lowest in the EU (8.4 nurses and 3.6 physicians on average, per 1,000 people). In addition, healthcare services are divided by regional, county and municipal governments, making access and coordination among them difficult.
  5. The current unemployment rate in Poland is 3.5 percent, according to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. However, the CIA World Factbook lists the poverty rate at 17 percent, as recently as 2015. The difference in healthcare between the population with the highest income and the lowest income is a 20 percent gap, with 71 percent of the highest income population reporting good health compared to just 53 percent of those with the lowest income.
  6. Although the average GDP spending for health in Poland has risen from 5.3 to 6.3 percent over the last 20 years, it is still well below the EU average of 9.9 percent. Per capita, Poland spends an average of EUR 1,272, making it the fifth lowest in the EU for spending. Private out-of-pocket spending made up about 23 percent of health spending, versus the EU average of 15 percent.
  7. There is an inability to train and retain an adequate number of healthcare workers and providers. Family medicine is not popular due to poor working conditions, low wages and limited career options. To combat this, a policy (Directive 2005/36/EC) was implemented in 2014 allowing all pediatricians and internists to work as primary healthcare physicians as well, without requiring any additional education or experience.
  8. Poland ranks fifth lowest for eHealth adoption and utilization among general practitioners and second-lowest for information and communication technology in the medical field. On average, 1.5 general practitioners use eHealth resources compared to the EU average of 1.9. The European Structural and Investment Funds are aiming to help further digitize the healthcare system in Poland, which in turn will lower wait times and provide more opportunities and access to a healthcare provider.
  9. Between 2014 and 2020, Poland will receive EUR 3 billion to fund health-related programs. The focus will be on emergency medical infrastructure, long-term healthcare, tobacco/alcohol/obesity prevention programs and eHealth access. The Polish Ministry of Health is committed to increasing public spending on health by 35 percent by 2024.
  10. Poland implemented the National Health Programme in order to address public health issues and promote healthy behaviors and activity. By using mass media, government-funded programs, such as the National Programme for Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems, and legal acts, such as the Act of Physical Culture, the National Health Programme is working towards halving the growth rate of obesity and diabetes and reducing the amount of alcohol abusers by 10 percent, both by 2025. It is also aiming to reduce the amount of tobacco use by two percent by 2020.

With Polish healthcare falling short compared to EU averages, the Polish government and Ministry of Health have acknowledged the problem and are in the process of refocusing efforts to improve the quality of medical care in the country. These top 10 facts about life expectancy in Poland show that there has been an improvement in overall healthcare and life expectancy, although efforts are still ongoing. Life expectancy in Poland has been increasing by an average rate of 0.21 percent and with these changes that growth will continue over the next several years.

– Jessica Winarski
Photo: Unsplash