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Nothing for free. Social policy can be efficient.

Published on February 17, 2012 by: in: Society

Social policy is probably the biggest worry of both the Polish state and society. We cannot talk about it in a rational way. Neither can we figure out its purpose, the reason why we spend a lot of money on it or what to do to make it efficient. The discourse is taking place to a large extent between the supporters of redistribution increase and the supporters of strict cuts. This discussion is idle to a high degree as it does not include mistakes that lie deep down in the system. It does not try to really solve problems. Populists (incorrectly) call liberals heartless richmen who want to destroy poor people. Liberals (correctly) call populists irresponsible ignorants who will cause the state collapse. This discussion, however, leads only to a political checkmate. At the same time social policy remains to be expensive and inefficient. We spend a lot of money on it, still we cannot prevent poverty. So far nobody has been able to come up with a solution that would break the deadlock.

photo: AR McLin

photo: AR McLin

Why does the state run social policy? What teaches us to function in the society?

We shall start the entire discussion about social policy by asking some questions about its philosophy and purposes. We should consider the reasons for which the state would carry it out and spend a high per cent of its budget on it. In European countries carrying out social policy is thought to be a simple consequence of the principles of social solidarity according to which it is moral for the majority possessing good life skills to help the weaker ones who are less successful as far as functioning in a capitalist society is concerned. One may cynically say that social policy is also a form of guarantee for the successful majority against the aggression from the socially excluded ones. It seems to me that the numerous failures concerning carrying out of social policy are caused by the improper understanding of the word “help” and, in addition, the function that the state has to fulfill is mistakenly interpreted. Here “help” means providing those in need with specific goods or services, such as: a meal, some money, shelter without requesting anything in return. This dogma is the basis of the Polish social welfare system. However, should the state act as a philanthropist or should it efficiently solve existing problems?

As a result, the state enables a great number of those socially excluded to only cover their very basic needs. Poverty generates new poverty and gives rise to new socially disadvantaged generations. Left-wingers claim: we should give more money to those who need it. Liberals notice that there in no more money for this purpose and that social policy is inefficient, thus it should be limited. The problem, however, is that neither limiting social policy nor spending infinite amounts of money on it will eliminate the problem. In order to break the deadlock, the definition of help should be changed. Help should never mean giving and not receiving anything in return. In real life, outside of the social welfare system such situations almost never happen. Help given to those less successful should teach them how to function in society. Thus, nothing should be given for free. You have reached a difficult point in your life, you need some welfare benefit, a communal flat, a shelter? Naturally, the state will help you but not for free. Welfare benefit in exchange for work. And there is a lot of work to be done: cleaning the streets, lawns, repainting public buildings and a lot more that the communes have no money for but it could be done by people being provided with social help. First, it will be socially useful. Second and foremost, it will teach them the life skills they need and they will get accustomed to some basic rules such as: being punctual for work, being  sober, working for the required period of time and performing a particular task. It will also give some meaning to their lives and will enable them to meet other people. Work and duties are the best socializing tools. Receiving something for free and having no responsibilities is highly demoralizing. Teaching people to work gives them the chance to get back to society and normally function in it. No welfare benefit will ever make this happen. This money only enables to cover the very basic needs. And the purpose of social policy, the reason why a rational country should take it on, is not the help itself but making efforts to bring people back to society and enable them to function in it. The purpose should not be covering people’s very basic needs and preserving pathology but giving them a chance which the Polish welfare system lacks in most cases.

Of course, there should be some exceptions to this rule. It is not advisable to force seriously ill pensioners to work. However, great efforts should be made to fight obtaining pensions under false pretences by people who are actually able to work. Naturally, it is not possible to force children to work. But how to help them and give them a chance to get out from poverty? The money that poor and numerous families get shall not be paid out in cash. Unfortunately, it is often not spent on a child’s development but on alcohol or other useless purposes. This is why instead of money given to parents, children should get: meals, textbooks, clothing vouchers, a place in a day-care room/library to study (children often have difficulties studying at home). This kind of help should not be for free. The conditions shall include good school attendance and promotion to the next class. In this way the state will put an end to financing alcoholism or parents’ stupidity but will really start helping the children, will give them some educational opportunities, a chance for development and future comeback to society.

Social attitudes and social organizations

The social welfare system is inefficient because of the structure and form of the institutions which offer this kind of help. In most cases, these institutions are run in an old-fashioned way and paperwork is of high importance. At the same time they are often poorly financed which often leads to occupational burnout and not putting much effort to work. Of course, this does not mean that there are no terrific devoted community workers in the welfare system. The system, however, does not create favourable conditions for it. Thus, it seems reasonable to reduce the number of positions in the social welfare system and give more money to employees who will keep their jobs. At the same time, it has been suggested for a long time that a number of duties connected with social welfare should be transferred onto non-governmental organizations in the form of grants competition, contracts, etc. It has been demonstrated that NGOs can manage their finances in a more rational way (in competition with other NGOs), they are able to gather passionate people who really want to work. They often do the jobs much better than the institutions. The homelessness welfare system in Poland is actually run by NGOs. It is high time this solution was implemented in other spheres of social policy.

Therefore, in order to improve the social welfare system, a great deal of work shall be done to improve the image of non-governmental organizations among the society. New habits should be formed. People should be taught not to give PLN5 to beggars in the street but to set up an automatic monthly transfer for Caritas Poland or Monar which offer real help. We must learn to trust non-governmental organizations.

Simple rules are needed

If there is a problem with management of a given structure/organization/program, which is the case with social policy in Poland, it is worth giving some thought to several simple rules which should govern the process. It is not advisable to stick to them dogmatically, we are not able to foreseen all circumstances, nevertheless, in general it is better to arrange the structure/organization/program on the basis of those simple, carefully considered rules. Great number of experienced managers suggests it really works.

Without keeping tight reins on social policy and without rationalization of its guidelines we will face living on the verge of state bankruptcy or radical and socially destructive cuts in state welfare benefits. Social policy in Poland craves for a set of universal and consequently applied rules defining ways of carrying it out. Such regulations may help us to avoid two types of mistakes commonly repeated in the process of shaping the social policy. The first type comprises of impromptu actions usually taken out of good incentives of their initiators. But the problem of such actions lies in their frequent inconsistency with already existing projects. What is more, they are often implemented at variance with economic rationality or financial abilities of the state. Another negative phenomenon, which obviously creates pathological situations, is the desire of politicians to win approval of influential group of voters.

What are those simple rules that we are talking about? The first one, already mentioned, should be inferred from the motto: “There is no free help.” It aims towards an attempt to restore individuals previously excluded from the society, to teach them work ethics, sense of responsibility, promptness etc. This rule may be called a development criterion. We assume that social policy should be oriented towards helping people to get out of the poverty and not preserving it. Such assumption has enormous consequences in the mode of distribution of welfare benefits. Financial effort of the state should be focused on creating jobs, teaching people how to work and mobilize them to take up jobs.

The spiritual criterion should become the next imperative. Social service ought to be granted to the poorest and not everyone. There is no rational explanation of welfare benefits being taken by well-off individuals or representatives of the middle class who in reality do not need such support. Unfortunately, laws allowing them to receive those benefits are still in effect in Poland and new ones are implemented or discussed too. “Becikowe” benefit (money granted to a woman after giving birth to a child) is a classic example. Duty of the state lies in aiding those who came a cropper in their lives and re-establishing them into the society. Support given to individuals who function efficiently is not justified. It should be excluded from duties and objectives of the state.

The third rule should be based on the criterion of the even odds. The even odds constitute an element of a basic philosophical principle that should become a guiding light for every activity of the state. A situation where the administration favours given social or professional groups over others is unfair and unexplainable. Therefore, the rule of unjustified preference of some professional groups at the expense of others, applied by the state as an element of social policy, ought to be eliminated. What I mean is a situation when we pass over the income measures and grant policemen, soldiers, farmers or miners a right to disproportional privileges, such as pension benefits, according to different principles than those concerning other professions. More often than not, the state’s finances are disastrously affected by such privileges, even years after their implementation. That is also not fair. Civil servant should not introduce laws which make farmer more privileged than shop assistant, taxi driver or lawyer. The incentive encouraging people to choose uniformed professions should be higher salary, not welfare benefits.

The fourth rule, another one previously mentioned, is the subsidiarity criterion. Welfare should be employed if, and only if, other means of support are definitely less effective or impossible to apply. Its creators should consider private entities and nongovernmental organizations being involved in the process; for the simple reason that they are frequently far more efficient than state institutions. In addition, the state should cooperate with these organizations and delegate to them some tasks connected with social policy being carried out.

The fifth rule is constituted by the efficiency criterion. This is a proposal of introduction into every act of law or regulation concerning social policy a mechanism of evaluation that would verify whether the aid provided in a given period of time was effective. Fictional and artificial welfare programs that usually do not turn out well are very common in Poland. Everyone is aware of that but a great number of institutions do not want to change the situation because they support themselves by this fiction and the government is off the hook for implementing any sort of social policy. Yet, it must be clearly stated that activities performed by employment offices and most trainings for unemployed are a total sham. Obligatory evaluation mechanisms of given projects in a definite period of time would increase their efficiency.

Discussing a reform of social policy it is worth to thoroughly consider what is the real use of it, what is the point. We are witnesses of the world’s entirely irrational discourse concerning the subject. Again and again political acts are being introduced assuming nonsensical allocation of funds to social groups that do not need such help or should get it in different form. The logic behind it: “Let’s give them benefits for free and gain voters” leads Polish legislation astray. On the other hand, financial cuts that are proposed are not thought through and not based on any analysis where to reduce and where invest. The usual incentive lies in potential gains bigger than expenses. We hope that the voice of “Liberté!” will contribute to rationalization of the discussion and in effect to introducing a reform that would result in efficient social policy carried out in Poland.

Translation: Małgorzata Jędrocha, Marta Jagustyn-Pustelak

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About Błażej Lenkowski

Graduate of International Relations at The Faculty of International and Political Science Studies of the University of Lodz; president of Industrial Foundation the publisher of Liberte!; entrepreneur.

Fredrich Naumann Foundation For The Freedom
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