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After 17 days of occupying the country’s parliament, the parents of Poland’s disabled youth are finally receiving reforms they have demanded for years. The Senate promised on April 18 to ratify a bill that will boost Poland’s welfare system benefits from a mere $270 per month to $431 by 2016, giving many the financial security they need.

Over 4,000 parents came out to actively fight in the movement, protesting outside of parliament and even staging sit-ins. Approximately 140,000 more individuals voiced support and were represented by the protests.

Poland’s welfare system has long been under criticism, particularly by those in need of disability benefits. Experts have recommended adjusting the caretaker allowance every three years to follow increases in cost of living, but Poland had neglected this for a decade. Prime Minister Donald Tusk made parents believe that changes would be made since taking office in 2011, but nothing had yet been done.

Leader of the month-long movement, Iwona Hartwich, pointed out flaws in Poland’s welfare system, stating that “In 20 years of Polish democracy, there has not been an effective welfare system established supporting a family taking care of a child with a disability.”

Political Science professor and Protest supporter Piotr Broda-Wsocki added that a livable social welfare system is a priority investment for Poland: “Funds for social benefits, especially for the young generation, need to stop being considered a wasted expenditure. This is smart money. If we can improve someone’s health condition, providing for him in the future will be much less expensive. Moreover, if we can educate these children and help them become independent, we will have a good citizen and taxpayer in the future.”

The 60% increase is significant for Poland’s disabled population and their families, giving caretakers the minimum flexibility to leave their jobs and still maintain a decent and dignified quality of life. For many, the previous welfare benefit was not sufficient to provide even basic medical care for their children in need, much less any other necessities.

Previously, Poland was alone among many European countries in not adequately supplying for their disabled children. Many in Scandinavia, such as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, directly employ caretakers through the federal government. Germany gives an allowance of up to $2,760 per month, which is enough for visits from a qualified nurse.

These parents will not rest, though, until their children are fully considered in all spheres of the public sector, especially education. Poland’s education system formally prohibits the exclusion of disabled children, according to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

An EU study reports that this is, in reality, false, and that many accessibility requirements that would allow students to attend local public schools are not provided. This is especially true in small towns, forcing thousands to move to larger cities so their children can attend more expensive, private schools.

Polish parents plan to keep asking for more measures and more welfare benefits to improve the standard of living for them and their families. Some have even made plans to travel to Brussels to seek the aid and attention of the EU Parliament.

— Stefanie Doucette

Sources: AlJazeera, European Union, Libcom
Photo: Aljazeera