Poland Table of Contents
In the late 1980s, Poland spent about 22 percent of its gross national product (GNP--see Glossary) on social benefits in the form of monetary payments or services. At that time, over 5 million Poles received retirement or disability pensions, and about 100,000 were added yearly in the latter category. In the years of labor shortage, government incentives encouraged pensioners to continue to work past retirement age (sixty-five for men, sixty for women). In the early 1980s, the number of invalids receiving benefits increased from 2.5 million to 3.6 million, straining the welfare system. The communist system also paid benefits to single mothers with preschool children, sickness benefits for workers, income supplements and nonrepayable loans to the poor, and education grants to nearly 75 percent of students, in addition to providing nominally free health care, cultural and physical education facilities. By the mid-1980s, however, all the free, state-funded services were being considered for privatization, fees, or rationing.
In the first postcommunist years, social support programs for the unemployed underwent important changes. The initial postcommunist policy guaranteed unemployment benefits and retraining regardless of the reason for a person's unemployed status. Benefits were to be paid indefinitely and were based on previous pay or on the national minimum wage for those who had never worked. Benefits included old-age, disability, and survivors' pensions and compensation for work injuries, sickness, maternity, and family-related expenses. Although the system covered both industry and agriculture, enterprises in the industrial sector paid much higher surcharges (usually 45 percent of the worker's salary) to the benefit fund than did either the agriculture or housing sectors.
In 1991 and early 1992, a series of laws drastically reduced the coverage of the unemployment program. Under the modified policies, benefits no longer went to those who had never been employed; a twelve-month limit was placed on all payments; and benefit levels were lowered by pegging them to income the previous quarter rather than to the last salary received. This reform immediately disqualified 27 percent of previous beneficiaries, and that percentage was expected to rise in ensuing years.
In 1992 the Warsaw welfare office divided its benefit payments among 4,500 recipients of permanent benefits, 8,500 recipients of temporary benefits, and 25,500 recipients of housing assistance. The public assistance law entitled one person per family to permanent benefits at the official minimum subsistence level. Throughout Poland, the demand for welfare assistance grew steadily between 1990 and 1992, well beyond the financial and organizational capabilities of the state system. The shortage affected a wide range of social categories: the homeless and unemployed, AIDS victims, families of alcoholics, and the elderly. According to a 1991 study, 18 percent of Polish children lived in poverty. Thus, the postcommunist conversion of a state-sponsored and state-controlled economy reverberated strongly in the "social security" that communism had promised but very often failed to deliver in the 1980s.
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Numerous useful monographs cover all or parts of Poland's society and environment. The Poles by Stewart Steven and Janine Wedel's The Private Poland are anecdotal treatments of the general fabric of Polish society. Länderbericht Polen is a collection of essays in German edited by Wilhelm Wöhlke covering religion, ethnic groups, health and welfare, and geography. Economic Reforms and Welfare Systems in the USSR, Poland, and Hungary, edited by Jan Adam, includes treatment of the postcommunist welfare structure. Kenneth R. Wulff's Education in Poland is a detailed description of the subject before, during, and after the communist regimes. Poland into the 1990s, edited by George Blazyca and Ryszard Rapacki, contains informative chapters on social structure in the communist era and on the condition of the environment after communism. Aleksander Gella's Development of Class Structure in Eastern Europe relates the evolution of social classes in Poland to those found in surrounding countries. And George Kolankiewicz and Paul G. Lewis's Poland: Politics, Economics, and Societytreats a number of social issues in the context of the country's political and economic structure. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of October 1992
Poland Table of Contents