The Poland Model—Promoting ‘Family Values’ With Cash Handouts

This article was originally published in The Atlantic on October 14, 2019, by Fuller Project Correspondent Anna Louie Sussman. 

Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of Poland's governing party, stands at a lectern in front of a banner with his party's policies.

Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of Poland’s governing party, and his colleagues have appealed to voters with the Family 500+ program.

SOBOLEW, Poland—Andrzej and Izabela Gromuł have a lot going on, with three boys ranging from 5 to 12, and a daughter on the way. On the warm Saturday afternoon that we spoke, the grassy backyard of their home in this small town was filled with toys, bicycles, and laundry drying in the sun; stairs off the foyer led to an unfinished attic, soon to be a playroom for the children.

Yet money is not tight. In recent years, the family has gone on a skiing vacation, and the couple just took their first trip to Italy for a romantic vacation. Andrzej works in construction and Izabela sells construction materials, but their newfound taste for travel, they said, came courtesy of Poland’s ruling party, Law and Justice.

The party, known as PiS, its Polish acronym, came to power in 2015 after campaigning on its flagship Family 500+ program, a monthly allowance of 500 złoty (about $125) per child for each kid after the first, or for single children in low-income families. Since the program went into effect, the Gromułs have been collecting 1,000 złoty a month, or nearly half of Poland’s minimum wage. That income will soon double once their daughter is born and their first son is included—the program has now expanded to cover all children. The kids are getting a taste for the high life, they joke, and are clamoring to visit Italy too.

“Now we don’t have to think twice about every expenditure,” Andrzej told me. “There are some crazy people in PiS … but still, these last couple of years show they actually did something, and our situation is better.”The populist parties of Eastern Europe are widely viewed from afar as a nasty gang of bigoted nationalists with a thinly veiled penchant for authoritarianism. But critics overlook a key part of their appeal: They have channeled serious money to voters in the name of shoring up the “family values” they say are under siege from secular Europe. These parties, such as PiS and Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, in Hungary, have found electoral success by combining a right-wing vision of society with state largesse. The Family 500+ program in particular, with its catchy title, neat round number, and wide reach, has become a model for other countries in the region, where declining birth rates and immigration of native-born citizens to more prosperous European countries have sparked demographic panic.

Read the full article here. 


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