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POLAND: Disability Benefits Protests
A small group of protesters began occupying a hallway of the Sejm last week. The protesters are parents of disabled children asking for an increase of support allowances they currently receive. The protests escalated in the last days, engaging NGOs and parents. President Andrzej Duda and representatives of the government, including Social Policy Minister Elżbieta Rafalska met with the protesters and offered assurances that their postulates will be recognized. However, these have been so far rejected.
A memorandum was signed by the government with delegates of the Consultation Council for Disabled Persons (a council for dialogue including representatives of the central and local government, and NGOs). This was criticized by the parents who felt omitted. PM Morawiecki has also suggested that the state cannot fulfill the demands of the protesters due to insufficient funds and argued that an additional tax on the highest-paid in Poland might solve this problem. The proposal was dismissed by protest leaders who argued that it would not be fair or socially sustainable.
The government is now in a difficult position. On one hand, most of the ruling party’s policies and campaign promises were based on improving the living standards of the average Pole. On the other hand, a growing number of social groups began demanding additional allowances and benefits. At the beginning of the year, a similar scenario forced the government to promise an increase of wages for medical staff. If parents of disabled children share a similar persistence, the government may be forced to consent to the plea – especially given recent drops in the polls for PiS.