Factors that influence local welfare policy in Warsaw include (1) historical heritage of the second world war and legal decisions made during 1944-90 (the period of so-called socialist rule); (2) present conflicts between the governing liberal party Civic Platform and parties in opposition: the populist Law and Justice party and the leftist Democratic Left Alliance present in the city council; (3) conflicts between local government of Warsaw and groups of citizens interested in solving particular problems in some ways; (4) citizens’ initiatives to help people having special needs (e.g. young mothers, immigrants) (grass-roots initiatives); (5) external financial support given by the EU.
The historical heritage of the second world war and legal decisions made during 1944-90
One of the major important factors influencing the housing policy in Warsaw is the “Bierut Decree” and its long-lasting effects. To efficiently rebuild Warsaw in the aftermath of the war, the authorities issued a legal act that allowed for the ownership of the land within the city’s administrative limits of 1939 to be taken over by the municipality, with ownership of the buildings to remain in the hands of their existing owners. The Bierut Decree was issued in 1945 and has remained in effect, continuing to constitute the basis for determining former owners’ rights. As the result of the political changes after 1989, former owners have gained opportunities of getting their properties back or receiving compensation from the city. The city as well as the state budget has to guarantee the funds to compensate property owners according to the current value of the building. This means that a big part of city budget is spent on compensation, adding to the existing deficit. It is also necessary to be aware that Polish cities are characterised by a very high density of housing (third from the bottom in Europe; only before Bulgaria and Romania; Eurostat 2012).
The effects of the Bierut Decree are also visible in the case of communal housing belonging to the city, because around a quarter of the city housing resources are located in buildings that may be subject to reprivatisation. The reprivatisation process also creates tensions between tenants and private tenement house owners. Reprivatisation of buildings with communal housing generates the biggest conflicts, because some private owners, after regaining their property, try to exchange the low rent paying clients of the welfare system for income generating ones.
In this situation in Warsaw, two organisations were established that deal with protection of tenant rights – the Committee for Protection of Tenants and the Warsaw Tenant Association. Both emerged as a result of the protests of the inhabitants of tenement houses, the owners of which had raised the rent charges. The organisations do not have the financial support of any institution. We may assume that the length of their existence is determined by the results of their activities.
The other side of the conflict is represented by the Polish Union of Property Owners, which argues that the authorities of Warsaw are blocking the return of real estate property taken away from the owners on the basis of Bierut’s Decree. Despite their efforts, tenants’ associations are the weaker side of the conflict and have not yet been able to gain a satisfactory solution. Their actions can be considered as part of process of building participatory democracy on the local level in Poland. One of the effects of their protests on the housing policy of the city was that in April 2012, the Team for Solving of Social Problems in Housing, Reprivatisation and Counteracting Homelessness and Social Exclusion was established in the capital city of Warsaw, with representatives of the city and social groups and TSOs. The team is aimed at proposing new initiatives in housing and providing advisory services to the local government.
Present conflicts between the governing liberal party and parties in opposition
The conflict has purely political character. As analyses show, in some cases the parties do finally reach agreement, like in the case of the perception and solving of the problem of care of children. The city council is of the opinion that the child care problems in Warsaw can be solved by (1) building new public kindergartens; (2) entrusting child care services to private entities; and (3) child care implemented by public–private partnerships. However, since 2007, only six new public kindergartens have been established in Warsaw. A cheaper and more flexible solution is to “buy out” non-public nursery and kindergarten places, which the parents can use in the same way (in terms of recruitment and charges) as the public facilities. Such a solution has been applied in the district of Bemowo. Another concept is to implement public–private partnerships.
Conflicts between the local government of Warsaw and groups of citizens interested in solving particular problems in some ways
The third partner of the conflict are grass-roots organisations such as the association of the parents of small children, who established the “Voice of the Parents” association demanding lowering fees in kindergartens and crèches in Warsaw. The action gained the support of the opposition parties in the city council and was successful and led to withdrawing the most problematic regulations. In the debate considering the age at which children should start school education, another association is active. The association “Ombudsman for Parents’ Rights” was created ad hoc by group of parents advocating maintaining the age of 7 years instead of 6 years, which was recently proposed by national government as a starting age for primary education. Later on, the leaders of association also created the Foundation for Parents’ Rights. The association “Voice of the Parents” is active mainly in Warsaw, while the other is present in various cities around Poland (e.g. leading social campaigns) with their headquarters in Warsaw. The organisations do not receive financial support of any kind; only some political support as in the case described earlier. Public opinion is divided on the issue. Both associations are typical protest organisations, which, more or less successfully, try to influence the decisions of national or local government concerning the allocation of financial resources or changing the education system.
Citizens’ initiatives to help people with special needs.
In the area of child care, we have to point out the creation of MaMa Foundation, also a grass-roots initiative, like the ones mentioned earlier. However, its goal is not to influence a situation through protest, but to fill some type of vacuum in welfare policy. Its activity is addressed to young mothers, both those who are working and those who are not. In the case of the latter, the foundation tries to activate them by the creation of social enterprises/cooperatives, which are giving them opportunities to make some money and to create a psychological effect: readiness to work instead of staying home. MaMa Foundation was able to get some modest financial support from local government and through it access to the financial support of the ESF. The foundation also received high level of support and visibility in local and national media. There are attempts to set up similar activities in other Polish cities. We may assume that the existence of the foundation has rather good perspective to maintain their activities in longer period of time.
Another example is related to the situation of immigrants. Immigrants as a group are recipients of activities undertaken by the City Hall and its subordinate institutions. The Office for Education of the Capital City of Warsaw implements projects in the field of integration of immigrant children in Polish schools, often cooperating with TSOs, that work with immigrants. However, according to the regulations, only some distinguished groups of immigrants have a right to social assistance: refugees, persons subject to complementary protection, immigrants with Polish citizenship and foreigners who have a permanent residence permit. The city authorities help the immigrants to solve housing problems, although to a very limited extent. The support of labour offices gains very little interest of immigrants (see reports WP3). A special category of immigrants – refugees and foreigners who have been granted complementary protection, are the only groups authorised to systemic integration support in Poland, which includes financial support, Polish language classes and counselling on the labour market. The remaining, most numerous, groups of foreigners in Warsaw may only count on TSOs to supporting them within the framework of their projects. As for the immigrants’ need to learn Polish, this demand is met by TSOs, offering courses free of charge or much cheaper than commercial entities, adapted to the level of advancement of the participants. Such courses are organised by the Foundation for Development Beyond Borders, the Polish Humanitarian Action and the “Fu Shenfu” immigrant centre. Apart from learning the language, the courses offered by TSOs provide immigrants with opportunities to build relationships with others. Many courses include not only regular classes, but also discussion meetings, watching movies together, etc. At the same time, TSOs are beginning to offer lessons in the English language. In the case of the Foundation for Development Beyond Borders, Polish and English language classes are a part of the overall support offered to immigrants in Warsaw: from legal assistance and support in dealing with any individual matters to training on the functioning of the Polish labour market, healthcare, the social insurance system, etc.
It is necessary to underline that the activities of the TSO to help immigrants have, to a large extent, a grass-roots character. The interesting example is the initiative of a group of lawyers who found that the existing welfare system working through national and local agencies do not provide the help needed by deprived groups, including refugees and other immigrants, especially in terms of dealing specifically with legal issues and law regulations. Therefore, they started at the beginning to advise and help informally and later transformed into the TSO (Association for Legal Intervention), getting some financial support from the city government. This initiative was highly welcomed by immigrants.
External financial support given by the EU
European funds are one of the major drivers of both infrastructural and social development in Poland nowadays. Active labour market policies as well as lifelong learning activities are one of the important areas supported by ESF. Therefore, it is not surprising that the financial support given by the EU, especially in the frame of the ESF and the European Fund for the Integration of non-EU Immigrants (EIF) is the important factor in the context of the sustainability of the discussed local initiatives. For example, in the case mentioned of TSOs helping immigrants, applying for EU funds is crucial for their projects, as they receive irregular and partial support from the city. Resources of the European Fund for the Integration of non-EU Immigrants (EIF) allowed for intensification of activities aimed at integration. Due to a lack of a clear integration policy in Poland and existing restrictions on social assistance available for immigrants, the fund actually replaced the state activity in this regard. Similarly, the support for social cooperatives like the one established by MaMa Foundation is possible thanks to the projects realised by Labour Office and based on ESF money. However, there is a risk that the initiatives based mostly on these funds may lose sustainability in future programming periods when the European Commission introduces some changes in the structure of the EU funds. On the other hand, in Warsaw, EU money supports the great majority of the activities against unemployment implemented by local welfare institutions (such as the Labour Office), TSOs and private entities, which usually offer training and courses for various categories of unemployed people. The consumption of EU funds is enormous in this field, but it is difficult to define and evaluate the real effectiveness and utility of such services.
In conclusion, we observe the building of a participatory democracy in Warsaw and the creation of TSOs often based on individual initiative. This phenomenon are characteristic of Poland because of significant mistrust of government and its agencies (WVS 2012, unpublished) and historically proven experience, that citizens are the most successful if take their problems into their own hands. Simultaneously, we have to point out that sensitivity to social problems and the described activities are conducive to social cohesion. The last decade shows that the governmental agencies responsible for social policy are becoming more understanding (with the support of the European Commission) to identify important problems in the city and meet the needs of different social groups. At the same time, protest groups and organisations, which play a significant role in shaping local welfare policy, constitute the important new “partner” also present in the social life of cities of stable democracies (Kopmans, Rucht 2002). As in many other countries, commercialisation of services take place, which may polarise local communities, dividing them according to income and the type of social networks that different groups have at their disposal.