Caregivers of adults with disabilities who stay home to care for them full-time have been protesting cuts that have left them without any support or health insurance. Effective July 1, the government cut aid to approximately 100,000 people who do not work outside the home because they care full-time for an adult relative with disabilities. The Multi-Branch Union of ZSP Warsaw has supported this movement and demands that the government recognize them as workers.
In the past, people who were not able to work because they care full-time for a disabled relative were entitled to help. The government however has just limited this to parents who care for disabled children. People who are care for a disabled adult have lost this meager help. Only a very small group of people – with really incredibly miserable incomes, can get any help, and that is about 125 euros a month. What is worse is that because the caregivers are neither recognized as workers or unemployed (falling through a hole in the unemployment office), they have no payments made into their own pension funds and have no health insurance.
The caregivers do not want to send their mothers, wives, husbands and children to live in a home for the handicapped, where the conditions are miserable and they would be deprived of their love. They also point out that since they cannot afford to pay for these homes or any other professional care (since the wages are so miserable in Poland), the cost of putting them in homes would be born by taxpayers – about 1000 euros per month. The government doesn't want to give them 125 euros a month but the alternative is much more expensive.
ZSP points out that the minimum wage is about 400 euros a month before taxes and even this is much cheaper than the cost of the homes. We refuse the capitalist logic that the only work that should be paid is the work in and for their economy; this work has a real value and should be paid.
On October 8, a group of caretakers protested in front of the Prime Minister's Office and then marched to the Parliament. One man who cares for his wife pointed out some of the outrageous expensives of the Prime Minister and compared this to the money needed for the caregivers. Another person noted that he has worked all his adult life and that he is a taxpayer and wants his money to go to things like this, not into the politician's pocket. Protesters held photos of their loved ones and expressed their anger.
Across the street from the Prime Minister's Office, people put a memorial down for Andrzej Filipiak. Filipiak was a 56-year old man who lost his job due to health problems and got into a desperate situation and set himself on fire across the street from the Prime Minister's Office during a union demonstration. Although the unionists, who did not know the man, tried to help him, he died. Many people see Filipiak as a symbol of the times, where more and more people are committing suicide out of economic desperation. A similar memorial was put during unions protests last month, but was quickly removed.
The caregivers and many other in Poland identify with the situation of Filipiak. They are in desperate situations themselves. The state of health of their loved ones is such that they cannot leave them alone all day. The cannot take up regular employment – not that being employed guarantees economic survival these days. They say that the only option the government leave some people is euthanasia. Stories abound in the press these days of people of people in such situations unable to buy enough food to sustain themselves.
ZSP has pointed out the incredible hypocrisy of the government which supposedly is „fighting for the family” by having strict anti-abortion laws, etc. but which leaves people to starve. While the religious right which dominate Polish society and politics push women to give birth in all situations, even if there will be serious birth defects, they are not prepared to help people to care for their children or other members of their families. Social help, housing, health care, special education – all these things are slashed by the neo-liberal government. Leaving families that have someone with a serious disability in such a situation is extremely cruel and we consider that it amounts to killing people slowly. We denounce these murderous policies of the government.
So far we have helped organized one event and supported a couple of protests of the caregivers. We will continue to speak out against this outrage and denounce the way that governments and capital treat people.