When in 2010 we started our project on the reconsideration of welfare state in Poland and called it “liberal social policy” many people were totally surprised. Why should liberals get engaged in such issues? We were accused of coining a term which was an oxymoron. Our friends from the left wing claimed that we would be talking merely about cuts and reduction of public expenses. Many liberals perceived this project as a compromise with creating a welfare state. I am convinced that our two-year activities, which crown this issue of Liberte! quarterly, are the best confirmation that such accusations were groundless. The subject of social policy described and formed from the liberal point of view – associated only with narrow economic issues – was until now actually absent in public debate. In this scope, we let populists and statists call the tune and it was a mistake. Our actions are changing it. We want to live in the society of free individuals. But this freedom does not mean that we should concentrate only on ourselves. As Professor Marek Góra described it in his excellent article for Liberte!, solidarity can go hand in hand with liberalism: “I think it would be good to restore a neutral social policy, that is, the policy which is not an emanation of politics but the solidarity of free people who try to weigh what should be left for individual choice and what should be carried out within the community”.
So how do we imagine the liberal vision of equal opportunities policy in Poland? For sure, it should provide the opportunities to develop regardless of external circumstances such as descent, parents’ income, place of birth, race, sex and so forth. As the supporters of the idea of the individual’s opportunity for self-fulfilment, which should depend on their individual desires and skills, not on the status and descent, we think that the current situation leaves a lot to be desired. The social policy should have a real change of the individual’s situation in view, not maintain the dependence on state’s alms. It should be properly oriented and make use of limited means. Unfortunately, until now social policy in Poland was based in large part on simple redistribution, maintaining the status quo, that is, a real deprivation of the poor living in the countryside, women, some ethnic minorities towards the wealthier and better-educated rest of the citizens. The state’s actions paradoxically preserve such a situation instead of changing it. One of the most important challenges and changes which we observe and urge is to reverse the outcome, which was really unlucky for the society and was en passant a part of the tools of social policy. We should also ask more often about the effectiveness of social policy as well as about equality and justice. Such dilemmas are far too often set aside. The social policy is still a tool for many politicians which they use to “buy” the support of certain social groups during election season. Fictional, but very expensive for public finances, programmes are created, thanks to which politicians gain positive publicity and popularity in the media. But such programmes do not have any influence on a real opportunity for the excluded group to improve. Such unlucky clientelism distorts the ideas of social help, destroys the effectiveness and rationality of programmes, is destructive to the state’s budget and gives the society irrational economic incentives. We are sure that in this area a wide educational programme is needed, which would be aimed both at the society and – above all – at journalists and opinion leaders. Paradoxically, the economic and demographic crises are the chance for the rationalization of such policies as well as a breach of politician-client relationship and re-establishing the desired politician-citizen relationship.
Strategic guidelines of social policy
The social policy (within the scope of all its programmes) should meet two basic criteria – it should be effective and just. Supposedly, the majority of debaters will agree with this statement. The dilemmas start when we begin to ask what justice means and how we should measure its effectiveness. Does ‘just’ mean equal for everyone (common programmes) or rather: is helping the poorest just? What is more, we should ask ourselves a question: how does our moral sense relate to the effectiveness and success rate of certain actions? Very often it is difficult to reconcile these two things. Within the scope of our project, we have very often discussed guidelines and rules which should characterise our social policy. We did not manage to reach full consensus. It is impossible to use universal methods for all programmes of social policy, which are very diversified. Nevertheless, there are some rules which we recommend that the decision-makers follow and which they should take into account while creating every programme of social policy. They should not treat them as a dogma but as the material for the analysis of a given project.
1. Earning criterion – social help should in most cases be granted to the poorest people not to everyone. There is no rational justification for granting money from social help to well-off or quite well-off people, who – as a matter of fact – do not need such help. Unfortunately, such acts are still in force and new acts are being passed or discussed. “Newborn allowance” is a classic example.
2. Equal chances criterion. Equal chances are the basic philosophical rule, which should play a significant role in the state’s activity. The situation when a state discriminates certain social and professional groups in favour of others is difficult to understand and simply unfair. That is why a rule of unfounded favouring of certain professional groups in social policy should be eradicated. I am talking about situations when we skip earning criterion and grant disproportionate privileges e.g. pension privileges to the uniformed services, farmers or miners on the principles different from the ones which are in force for other professional groups. Such favouring usually leads to disastrous outcomes for the state’s finances many years after introducing such privileges. Salaries, for example, should be the incentive to work in the uniformed services, not social security benefits. Such a mechanism hides public costs and burdens the future generations with financial liabilities.
3. Criterion of help. State’s social help should take place only when other ways of help are far less effective or impossible to be applied. Such help should take possible actions of private entities and non-governmental organisations into consideration, which can very often act in a much more effective way than public institutions. Decision-makers should remember about restricted state’s abilities. Every programme within the scope of social policy means the development of red tape, which is its integral part. It is very often not needed, many services and products (like businesses, non-governmental organisations and citizens) are able to supply the market.
4. Effectiveness criterion. There is a suggestion to introduce acts or decrees concerning the mechanism of social policy’s evaluation, which would check whether the granted help turned out to be effective at a certain time. In Poland, there are many examples of fictional, ostentatious actions within the scope of social policy which do not work. The awareness of their existence is common, but many institutions are not interested in changing such a situation. The competent institutions very often live on carrying out such fictional projects and people in power have an election alibi, as they can prove that social policy is being realised. Meanwhile, it is essential to state clearly that e.g. today’s activity of job centres or most of the training courses for unemployed people are fictional. The mechanism of obligatory internal evaluation of effectiveness of a given project at a certain time could increase this effectiveness.
5. Development criterion. The last proposed criterion suggests that social policy should be aimed at helping overcome poverty not maintain it. Such assumption has great consequences when it comes to the way of distribution of social policy. State’s financial effort should enable people to get a job and mobilise them to undertake professional activity instead of keeping them at home.
The maintenance of poverty
The phenomenon of preserving negative life attitudes by social policy and pushing people into ghettos without perspectives are still great problems of such programmes. The structure of distribution of social policy largely contributes to it. In many cases it involves simple paying out of different benefits. Such benefits are usually very low but altogether they extremely burden the state’s budget. At the same time such measures do not lead to any changes of the situation. They just enable to survive usually on the very edge. A lot of workers from the public sector of social policy are typical administration workers who look after the red tape, the record of persons who get benefits and after paying these benefits out. The system is not constructed in a way which could guarantee a change. It was designed to last and enable the existence without any hope for change of people’s difficult situation. In such a system, the rule of exchange (which states that if someone receives help they should also give something like work, commitment etc. in return) is absent. It is extremely important because it teaches anew the excluded people how to function in the society, it shows that they are also needed, it teaches the sense of duty, punctuality at work – these are the most important features which are necessary if someone wants to come back to the labour market. After all, bringing people back on the labour market should be the most important task of social policy.
A great example here can be the activity of job centres, which Ilona Gosk and Joanna Tyrowicz write about in this issue in a very interesting way. Today all their work consists of management of unemployed people, paying out benefits, registration into health insurance but not of real help in looking for a job. We suggest that functions performed by job centres should be taken over by private employment agencies and training companies, which would cooperate with them and would be paid by the state for the effect, that is finding a job by
a person served by them. Public payments (not to discriminate against the worst prepared ones) could be divided into two instalments, e.g. 50% for taking an unemployed person under agency’s wing, 50% after finding a job for him or her. An unemployed person would receive a benefit after registration in a private agency. These companies would have to compete for their clients (unemployed people), by offering the best services, and effectively look for a job for them to receive the second instalment. While competent social service centres should take care of people who have been unemployed for a longer period of time, who are excluded and have different problems. We would like to spread such logic of action to other institutions from this sector.
The policy of maintaining poverty and “supporting” it by a state is also carried out by the cohesion policy, which in certain context can be called social policy. It is clear that the investment of e.g. European funds would be more effective if they were allocated in major metropolitan centres, not scattered in suburban regions. The same situation is with investments in different branches of economics. A lot of money is allocated in agriculture, which does not bring as considerable return as highly productive sectors of the economy. The costs of many infrastructural investments in suburban regions per one user is very often irrationally high.
A question arises about the point of building a sewage system for a small village (15 houses) in which everyone usually has their own well and toilet. Is this a public policy or irrational wasting of public funds, which could be used somewhere else in a more effective way? The idea of “the great removal”, which is propounded by Dr Maciej Duszczyk, also tries to solve the dilemma mentioned above. It means a redirection of funds to stimulate people’s moving from suburban regions to the centres, which are engines of economic growth and where most workplaces are generated. To put it bluntly, according to this idea, it will be cheaper and more effective to help people move to a place where there is a chance to find a job rather than support people in suburban regions by social benefits. It is also a great chance for them to get higher salaries, to self-realise and become independent. This project is also connected with savings in the area of investments, which should be centred around growth centres. We are truly convinced “the great removal” could significantly help solve the phenomenon of maintenance of poverty in many regions of Poland.
Aging of the society
Aging of the society is perhaps the greatest challenge for the “welfare state” as it is today. Professor Góra notices that the current economic crisis, the crisis of states’ debts, should not be actually called “the crisis”. A permanent change in the demographic structure of western countries has occurred, which results in an extremely expensive mechanism of pension financing ceasing to be effective and able to self-finance. It is a permanent situation. The system must be either changed or thoroughly reformed because the burden for working people, which is the result of the pension plan, will turn out to be unbearable. Such burdens slow economic growth down and cause unemployment, raising labour costs radically. Professor’s observation and conclusion that the system should start to take not only help and life of the oldest generations into account, but also more and more difficult financial situation of young and working people, is very apt. Even more so because there is a so called “spiral”, which will aggravate the problem – the more retired people, the bigger burden for young working people, and the bigger the burden for young working people, the fewer children will be born.
It appears that at first sight introducing civic (that is social) pension plan would be the most reasonable solution. Adam Smith Center suggests such a solution. The main assumption of this idea would be as follows: the state does not have enough funds to provide high pensions and its only task would be to provide minimal funds for elderly people just to survive. If someone wants to live better, he or she has to save money on their own. Such a solution would result in considerable savings when it comes to expenditures on pensions and it also seems to be fair. But there is one problem. Nobody showed a solution which would be credible and possible to carry out and which would change the current system into a civic pension plan. The system will collapse if there are lowered premiums for civic pension plan and if benefits acquired by generations working up to now are maintained. The state will probably not be able to finance such burdens. At the same time, according to the Polish law, acquired rights cannot be taken away. It conforms with the idea of justice as well – if someone saved big sums of money in premiums, he or she expects a higher pension and should get it. The idea of civic pension is purely theoretical and, unfortunately, could not be introduced in the Polish reality.
That is why we should reform the current system thoroughly and (according to Professor Góra) change the way of thinking about pensions. In the name of solidarity across generations, people must understand that they will retire when they are really old and unable to work. This means that life after retirement will be much shorter and years of work will be much longer. That is why the pension reform introduced this year by the government Civic Platform (PO) – Polish People’s Party (PSL) is necessary. But the pace of raising the retirement age leaves a lot to be desired. We think that this process should be much faster. What is more, we should be aware that for people who are now in their 20s and 30s, the retirement age will be higher because we will retire after the age of 70. A radical standardisation of the system is needed to balance it and make it universal. This means that all pre-retirement and professional privileges of certain influential groups (like miners, uniformed services etc.) should be abolished.
When it comes to the aging of population we should mention family policy. First of all, its restrictions should be highlighted. Traditional political parties glorify family policy and treat it as a miraculous antidote to the crisis in birth rate, which allegedly can reverse demographic trends in Poland. Unfortunately, such a miraculous antidote does not exist. First of all, demographic crisis in our country is a phenomenon which is characteristic of other countries as well. This problem is a civilization process, which actually concerns the whole Europe together with Russia. It means that the demographic crisis is caused by something more than inept family policy in Poland. In public discourse, we overestimate the role and influence of the state on real social-economic life. The demographic crisis, which will have disastrous economic results for the future of Europe, is mainly caused by cultural changes. Nowadays many families decide on 2+1 or 2+2 model of family. The phenomenon of defamilisation intensifies, more and more people decide to live as singles or do not want to have children. The age at which women decide to have children changes drastically from historic point of view. In 2000 in Poland, the average age of giving birth to the first child was 23.7 years old, while in 2012 it was already 26.6 years old. When we compare the data with previous decades, we notice that the change is fundamental. There are many factors which decide about this big change and the economic factor is very often not decisive in this case. First of all, a cultural model has formed, according to which young people do not hurry up to start a family. They prefer to have some partners in the initial phase of their life and later on they date their chosen one for a long time before they decide to become parents. The awareness and ability to use contraception is increasing. Young people want to make decisions about their future consciously. We cannot blame them for that, it is a good attitude. The prolongation of educational process and popularisation of higher education also have a great influence on this phenomenon, which results in a higher rate of young people entering the labour market not at the age of 19, but 5 years later. It has a great, but often not noticed by researchers, influence on the decisions about having children. Young people who are entering adult, independent life have expectations concerning their life status which are incomparable with the expectations of previous generation. As long as they are young they want to see the world, buy a flat before they have a child and get financial stability. Fighting with this new style of life, which is very often suggested by the Right, is like tilting at windmills. A traditional 19th century family model is impossible to be restored.
Which measures can be taken? We should start to connect the aims of family policy with its tools rationally. There is a more important task than voicing a populist slogan “more public money for children”, namely thinking of the way of spending money we have and at the same time taking current cultural trends and young people’s real motivations into consideration. The most unrealistic assumption of many programmes called family policy is aiming at offering young families, especially young mothers, different kinds of benefits. This is the example of a total waste of public money and it does not bring us any closer to reaching our goal – rising the birth rate. Especially in Poland, where there are many restrictions resulting from state’s budget situation. Why? Just try to associate some family programmes promoted on the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy website with young people’s motivations. These are the examples offered by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy:
Family allowance. The amount of monthly family allowance is as follows: 1) PLN 68.00 per child below the age of 5; 2) PLN 91.00 per child above the age of 5 until it turns 18; 3) PLN 98.00 per child above 18 years old until it turns 24. The exact rules concerning the granting of allowances can be found on the Ministry’s website. Nonetheless, according to the most important rule, the allowance can be granted in a situation when the average monthly income of a family per capita or the revenue of a person in full-time education does not exceed PLN 504.00. Persons entitled to family allowance can submit an application for other benefits under certain conditions. For example: a benefit for family allowance on childbirth amounts to PLN 1000; a benefit on parenting a child in large families amounts PLN 80 (the allowance is granted for the third and the following child entitled to family allowance).
On childbirth, one is also entitled (apart from allowance) to a one-time additional benefit on childbirth, which amounts to PLN 1000 for one child.
The programmes described above are examples of spending public money on actions which do not fulfil the objectives for which they were created. These programmes cannot be called family policy because they do not contribute to birth rate growth. It is naïve to think that anyone will be motivated to have third child by state’s allowance amounting to PLN 80. It is a mockery of young people and waste of public money. And most of all, it is a total lack of understanding of young generation’s aspirations, that is the people who want to decide about their lives themselves, who want to fulfil their aspirations and develop their professional careers. Benefits, as a part of family policy, should be abolished and the allotted money should be used to support real actions. They could be alternatively treated as a part of policy supporting the poorest, but this is not family policy.
The whole undertaking of family policy should be aimed at actions which enable parents to come back on the labour market as fast as possible and to combine their life aspirations with having children. The state should not maintain families with children but enable them to earn their living. In such a case, the state does not humiliate itself and the parent claiming that it will encourage families to have a child for PLN 68 monthly, but creates a system which combines modern culture and young people’s aspirations with the ability to have children. And here we come to the key words: nurseries and kindergartens. Development of these extremely important institutions, which should be financed by joint effort of the state and parents (maybe it is worth considering voluntary insurance programmes for young marriages, thanks to which a child’s stay in a nursery could be financed for a long time) is the key to combining life aspirations of young people with having children. The certainty, that a mother will be able to come back to work faster and develop her career because she knows that after a short maternity leave she can leave her child in a professional nursery with flexible hours, can speed up the decisions of having children. It can lead to such a situation that a mother will decide to have a second and a third child faster. Nurseries and kindergarten will gain in importance because of the decline in the number of grandmothers who can help young parents. A necessary pension reform will make women work longer that is why women will become full-time grandmothers later than nowadays.
Nurseries and kindergartens are not everything. Another important thing is creating a system of preventive health care for women which enables fast detection of diseases, and which prevents women above 30 from getting pregnant.
Education as a tool of social policy
Talking about social policy, it is impossible not to mention education, that is a tool, which provides young people with skills which will enable them to function on the labour market in an independent and effective way. We suggest some changes and reforms in this scope.
First of all, putting state’s financial emphasis on the education of the youngest children. Nurseries, kindergartens, primary schools – these are the places where equal chances for everybody should be created (also for gifted persons from excluded families). It will result in taking many young people from poverty, exclusion and pathology.
At the same time, we cannot find any justification for state’s mass financing of higher education. Students, as adult people, are able to co-finance their studies by taking up a job or taking loans. The state should finance only scholarships for a certain percentage of the most gifted students (the percentage is different for every faculty). This solution could eradicate the problem of too many students of some faculties, which are unnecessary on the labour market but are nowadays treated by young people as the possibility to “survive” peacefully some years of youth. We also suggest that public and private schools should have the same status and rights.
When it comes to secondary schools and higher education, the state should not strive for standardisation of educational programmes. At the beginning of educational pathway, equal chances should be created and later on there should be a differentiation according to students’ potential and skills. We should come back to the idea of vocational education on the level of secondary schools. This stage of education should also give the best students a chance to receive as high level of education as possible. That is why creating leading universities, which will be able to offer education at world level, is needed. To enable this, universities should be given a better chance for individual selection of students for faculties they have created. It means departure from new matura exam, which now is a universal way of being admitted to colleges. We should also analyse the model of financing colleges. Especially the best ones should not be financed according to the rule: “state’s money follows the number of students”. This system is harmful to the level of education at many universities.
With this issue, we would like to raise a debate on liberal social policy.
Translation: Anita Stradomska.
Proof – reading: Katarzyna Różańska.