NIK audited 21 social welfare centres in 7 provinces to check first of all if the measures taken by local authorities to curb poverty in their area were effective. According to NIK, from January 2017 to the middle of 2019, the measures mostly amounted to the benefit payment and food aid. In urgent cases, aid was provided before administrative decisions were made. It was thus effective aid in terms of satisfying basic life needs, although it was not properly planned to help the poor become independent. NIK also stated that municipalities rarely identified such persons' needs on their own. Only in 6 audited centres, there were only single cases where support from the government was granted. In other facilities, the support was granted to the ones who asked for help.

Poverty in Poland

In the past years, the number of people using social welfare has gone down in Poland. In 2015, the state supported about 3.2 million people and in 2018 it was about 2.4 million (25% decrease). The number of people who received financial aid because of poverty (as they met the income criteria) dropped even more - from nearly 1.8 million in 2015 to over 2018 (nearly 39% decrease). That trend was also visible in the municipalities audited by NIK. But still, poverty was the main reason why social welfare centres provided financial aid.

The number of people using social welfare, support due to poverty and the number of families with children receiving support due to poverty  The number of people using social welfare The number of people using support due to social poverty  The number of families with children using support due to social poverty  Source: data from NIK audit

No doubt, the reduction in the number of people under the care of the state was influenced by favourable changes in economic and social conditions in that period. Between 2015 and 2018, unemployment in Poland went down by 50%, the average and minimum salary went up by over 15%. Besides, due to the lowering of the pension age, some people previously using the state aid were granted pension benefits. The financial standing of families was also improved by launching the Family 500+ Programme.

Before 2018, as the estimates of households’ expenses show, the scope of economic poverty was gradually going down. This decreasing trend stopped in 2018 (data for 2019 was not published yet). According to the data of the Central Statistical Office for 2018, as compared with 2017:

  • extreme poverty line (minimum level of subsistence) increased from 4.3% to 5.4% of the inhabitants of Poland,
  • relative poverty line (poverty line is 50% of the average amount spent by households per month) increased from 13.4 % to 14.2 % of people,
  • statutory poverty line (pertains to people whose income - in line with the effective Act on Social Assistance makes them eligible to request financial aid) increased from 10.7% to 10.9% of people.

For the audit needs, NIK also conducted a sociodemographic analysis in the audited municipalities. As many as 353 persons using social welfare because of poverty responded to NIK’s questionnaire. It revealed that in 2018 a statistical subject of social welfare centres was a single, 48-year-old woman with vocational education who has taken advantage of the state support for at least 6 years.

Percentage distribution of subjects due to family situation. Data: Single person: 40.51%; Parents + children: 20.11%; Single person + children: 17.28%; Other: 9.35%; Two persons: married couple /partners: 7.08%; Parents, adult children: 3.97%; No data: 1.7%. Source: NIK’s questionnaire

Percentage distribution of subjects’ education. Data: Vocational education: 34%; Secondary education: 30%; Primary education: 24%; Higher education: 7%; Lower secondary education: 4%; Incomplete primary education: 1%; Other: 0%; No data: 0%. Source: NIK’s questionnaire

About 70 percent of all analysed cases were related to long-term use of social assistance, a minimum of 3 years, but also as long as 10 or even 25 years. It often resulted from financial issues related to a person’s disability or a long-lasting and serious illness making that person unable to take up work (about 20% of cases). Some people used state aid for many years among other things because of the so-called inheritance of poverty or learned helplessness. The average age of all subjects was 48 years and so the majority of subjects of social welfare centres are people who theoretically should be independent in economic and social terms.

The persons surveyed by NIK said that social assistance helped them meet their basic biological needs and gave them a sense of mental and emotional safety. On the other hand, responses to the questions about the persons’ life situation pointed out that social assistance was not very effective. More than 18% of respondents said their situation did not change, about 11% said it got worse. Almost 38% of subjects said it improved slightly. An absolute improvement was declared by over 14% of respondents and nearly 17% of them identified a noticeable improvement in their life situation.

Municipal aid after submitting the request

Social workers are statutorily obliged to analyse and evaluate phenomena that give rise to the need for social welfare benefits. The NIK audit shows, though, that the municipal support for persons living in poverty is almost always provided on an ad hoc basis. Only in 6 of 21 audited social welfare centres in some cases, the assistance was provided ex officio. It happened only in 8 of 440 cases (2%) scrutinised by NIK. In other cases, assistance was provided based on submitted requests (written or verbal, filed in the records).

Most of the audited municipalities had long-term strategies for solving social problems in place. However, in many cases, the strategies dealt with assistance to poor people only indirectly. Most frequently it occurred in the context of unemployment, disability, or a long-lasting and serious disease. Additionally, analyses made for the needs of such documents were usually outdated. In 9 of 21 local governments (44%) long-term strategies for solving social problems became effective over 3 years ago. In the case of 2 municipalities, it was over 10 years ago. The unemployment rate went down significantly in that period. At the same time the demand for care services for the elderly increased.

Also, the NIK audit revealed that the effectiveness of assistance to persons in poor financial standing is not evaluated, except for two social welfare centres. The assistance plans were modified in case the existing forms of support did not bring the desired effects, e.g. in case money was wasted or financial support was changed into material aid. Its effectiveness, though, was evaluated only when the person who used the aid submitted another request for assistance.

Good practices - the City Social Welfare Centre in Rzeszów: social workers prepared cards to diagnose persons/ families aided by the social welfare centre. The cards included basic information about: persons threatened by or living in poverty, measures developed and taken to help them as defined in the assistance plans, including information about offered and provided specialist advisory. The cards also included results of the evaluation of the assistance effectiveness, making it possible to monitor the system of provided support.

In most of the audited municipalities, the identification of poor persons and their needs was not formalised.

Good practices: In 2017, the Head of the Municipal Social Welfare Centre in Lubicz issued an ordinance, based on which new procedures were implemented. They included:

  • identifying the poor and socially excluded, threatened by social exclusion
  • identifying their needs.

Under the ordinance the identification should include among others: systematic monitoring of local community of the municipality inhabitants, social work, cooperation with local leaders, institutions, organisations and volunteers, stimulation of local activity and social sensitivity, visiting of threatened communities, analysis of available data, requests sent every year to local leaders and institutions for help in diagnosing the needs of persons threatened by poverty and social exclusion. It was assumed that the poverty issue pertains to persons, families, and groups of people who:

  • live in unfavourable economic conditions,
  • experience damaging social processes,
  • lack the life capital that would let them achieve a regular social position,
  • are discriminated,
  • are disabled, suffer from some diseases or addictions,
  • are subject to damaging behaviours (such as violence, blackmail, indoctrination) of other people.

The people in need were usually provided with ad hoc financial aid or food. All in all, from 2015 to 2018 the audited municipalities spent over PLN 477.5 million on the support of persons and families in a difficult financial standing, including nearly PLN 109 million on periodic benefits, almost PLN 107.5 million on regular benefits and nearly PLN 71 million on food aid. Expenditures for a specific purpose, e.g. to cover the costs of food, medicine, and treatment, fuel, clothes, indispensable household goods, minor renovations, and repairs in a flat, as well as costs of funerals totalled over PLN 45.5 million.

The municipalities also financed care services, provision of shelter, specialist advisory, or extra funds for subjects’ stay in social welfare centres.

Share of various forms of support to the poor from 2015 to 2018. Data: 34% - benefit for a specific purpose; 27% - periodic benefit;  20% - food;  9% - regular benefit;  3% - specialist advisory;  3% - care services;  2% - groups of support, self-aid or therapeutic groups;  1% - shelter;  1% - stay in social welfare centre; 0% - organisation of funeral. Source: NIK audit results.

Usually ad hoc support, rarely fully-fledged

The NIK audit revealed that work with poor people only to a little degree was to activate them in their lives. According to NIK, this situation may make the subjects’ mobilisation more difficult or even impossible to take real efforts to change their difficult life situation.

In the audited municipalities:

  • only 15% of social welfare beneficiaries were covered by individualised aid tool - social contracts,
  • 30% could take advantage of specialist advisory (especially legal, psychological and family advisory)
  • only 2% of persons who were under the care of social welfare centres due to poverty were sent to Social Integration Centres or Social Integration Clubs,
  • 3% of persons were part of groups of support, self-aid or therapeutic groups,
  • 3% of persons were covered by activation projects or programmes developed by the government, ministries, local governments, or the European Union.

In the great majority of cases examined by NIK, the assistance plans prepared based on background surveys made with the needy were developed superficially and schematically, without assigning weights to individual issues (indicating dominating, important, less urgent issues). The social welfare centres said the problem was time: the basic needs of the poor had to be met immediately.

Poor persons also prefer aid in the form of money or food. But to make the measures to curb poverty more effective, it is essential to plan individualised, fully-fledged and multi-directional activities, including specialist aid. This can be done by signing a social contract with a person in need. This contract is to strengthen the persons’ activity and independence in life, also at work, and to prevent social exclusion. The audit showed that this type of aid is planned very rarely. Nearly ¼ of the audited social welfare centres did not apply that tool in any way, despite its very high effectiveness.

In 440 cases probed by NIK, social contracts were signed only with 64 persons. The contracts included work objectives corresponding with defined, individual problems of a given subject. Long-term and comprehensive assistance was planned and criteria were set for all objectives to measure their achievement. In the case of 56 persons, the objective was the employment support by obliging them to actively search work, participate in Social Integration Centres or Social Integration Clubs and take part in socially useful productive works. The objective to start the alcohol addiction treatment was set in the case of three persons. In the case of four persons, it was to acquire or develop parenting skills and in case of one person, it was to complete documents needed to submit a request for a degree of disability certificate. As a result, as many as 50 in 64 persons found work, which is the most frequent reason why people no longer apply for support due to poverty.

It should be added, though, that the persons who necessitate comprehensive, tailored assistance most, are often most reluctant. The audit findings show that these are beneficiaries who have taken advantage of the support for the longest period, who often experience helplessness in life or addiction to aid.

It happens that the support offered by employees of the social welfare centres, also the ad hoc one, is rejected. There are different reasons for this. Sometimes the persons in need do not want to provide information on their real financial standing or they may be reluctant to stay sober in a shelter to which they are referred. The background survey may also be an issue as it often requires providing data of the closest family members who are obliged to provide support.

On the other hand, due to the respect for privacy, the assistance should reach the people who need it and who do not ask for it. NIK says that information about the possibilities of using social welfare should be spread on a wider scale.

Article informations

Date of creation:
12 August 2020 15:01
Date of publication:
12 August 2020 15:01
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
12 August 2020 16:19
Last modified by:
Andrzej Gaładyk
An elderly person's hands holding coins © Adobe Stock

Municipal aid to the poor

Read content once again