In 1989, Poland started a successful transition to a market economy. Changes affected the whole of Polish society; economic benefits were not distributed evenly and social difference deepened. Long-term negligence of certain issues and vulnerable groups has begun to manifest in Poland. This report presents two aspects of such negligence – homelessness and discrimination against women – and examines how the authorities are addressing them. The place of gender equality in Polish development assistance is also discussed.
Poverty and social exclusion in Poland
Poverty and social exclusion have escalated in Poland in recent years. The rate of relative poverty risk in Poland was 17% in 2008 and remains at the European average (Central Statistical Office 2010a). Poverty has become the subject of many discussions and its alleviation a priority for the government and social projects. Unfortunately, Poland’s continuing neoliberal transition into a market economy, in conjunction with the global economic crisis, may further exacerbate the situation.
Homelessness in Poland as the result of poverty
The dire situation of many Polish families may result in failure to fulfil basic needs. It may also lead to social marginalisation and social exclusion in a broad sense. Poles who live on the border of the social or subsistence minimum should be treated as threatened with homelessness. Unfortunately, the Polish Government is not well prepared to deal with this problem. The homeless assistance system functioning in Poland is aimed primarily at immediate assistance (intervention), and less at prevention (directed to people threatened with homelessness) and re-integration (directed to the homeless). In addition, Poland has not developed strategies at the national level to combat homelessness. The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy was working on the development of such a strategy, but stopped during the final stages.
Homelessness and municipal housing resources
The issue of homelessness, and the low number of homeless people who become independent, should be considered in the context of the dismal housing conditions in Poland. In 2008, the Supreme Chamber of Control negatively evaluated the municipal housing policies (Gazeta Wyborcza 2008). It found that municipalities showed very weak commitment to preparing sites for housing and measures to streamline the process of starting and implementing housing projects were inadequate. There has also been no significant increase in the surface area allocated to housing in recent years, which does not help to increase the pace of housing investment.
Social exclusion and discrimination against women
The social exclusion of women is becoming an urgent issue in Poland. It is caused by many different factors, some of which are outlined here. Despite the fact that official statistics and independent reports prepared by non-governmental organisations highlight the difficult situation of women in Poland, little has been done to improve it. As sociologist Izabela Desperak noted, “despite constitutional provisions and numerous anti-discrimination laws, gender equality seems to be a fiction in Poland” (Desperak 2009). This situation is well recognised and the European Commission recently sent reasoned opinions to Poland about the non-transposition of EU rules prohibiting discrimination in the work place (Gazeta Prawna 2008).
Polish Official Development Assistance and gender equality
EU policy regarding development assistance programmes places special attention on gender equality, defining it as a crosscutting issue that should be a core idea in all strategies and policies regarding development (European Commission, 2010). The ‘EU Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development’ for the period 2010 to 2015, adopted by the European Council in June 2010, recommends the implementation of a twin-track approach entailing gender mainstreaming and specific actions targeting the promotion of women’s rights and the empowerment of women (European Commission 2010)
Poland – European Social Watch Report 2010