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Poland’s ruling party banks on child subsidy to win

Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz -

Maria Kolsut will be thinking about her financial security when she votes for Poland’s ruling right-wing party in Sunday’s parliamentary election. The mother of three is not a fan of all policies pursued by Law and Justice (PiS). She is worried by its judicial reforms, which the European Union’s executive says threaten the

independence of judges.

But she will put her qualms aside because of a child subsidy which has made her better off than before PiS came to power in 2015. Kolsut, a factory worker in the northern town of Nowa Karczma, receives 500 zlotys ($127) a month for each of her children. The combined 1,500 zlotys from what is known as the 500+ subsidy is roughly equivalent to the minimum monthly wage. She no longer has to struggle to pay her utility bills and buy clothes.

“I sleep soundly,” Kolsut, 35, said as she watched her daughter Lena and friends celebrating her seventh birthday at an indoor play area she hired for the occasion. “I am pleased with the (PiS) family policies.” The subsidy, which is not means-tested and not indexed to inflation, is seen by PiS as vital to its appeal to working-class voters.

Promises to introduce the subsidy helped PiS return to power in 2015, when its socially conservative and nationalist agenda tapped into public frustration with Western liberal values.

Critics say 500+ is populist, costly to the economy and reinforces a stereotypical image of women. But pollsters say it has contributed to a big lead for the PiS in opinion polls.

A comfortable election victory would give PiS a mandate to further reshape Poland in its conservative image. A close race could force it to rein in some of its ambitions and make it harder to stand up to EU pressure over the rule of law.

In the 2015 election, the then governing centre-right Civic Platform (PO) won in Nowa Karzma’s voting district, but PiS won 54 per cent of votes there in a European Parliament election in May.

“Our region is very family-oriented,” said Karolina Burczyk, a 26-year-old accountant. “More people used to vote for PO but now PiS is more popular.”

The child subsidy, introduced in April 2016, was meant to help 2.7 million families in the country of 38 million people. Economists said it was expected to bolster the economy by fuelling consumption, at least in the short term.

It has cost more than 70 billion zlotys. But it is the first time since communist rule ended in 1989 that Poland has handed out money that does not stigmatise recipients as being poor, and has won over working-class Poles who previously felt they had seen little benefit from the transition to free markets. — Reuters

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