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 $65.9 billion in 1990 to $533.6 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 cannot get access to a stable power grid. While energy poverty is an unfamiliar term to many countries, including 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 its 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 the World Bank interviewed 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, they 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 on temporary contracts. These temporary, low-paying jobs leave many households in Poland in danger of poverty.
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 expand 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 housing 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