Parents protesting outside parliament or occupying halls inside with children lying on blankets or in wheelchairs have emerged as a key issue dominating headlines.
Polish parents who remain unemployed so they can take care of their disabled children receive meager government funds — on the condition they don’t work. Some of the aid stops when the children turn 18, even though many of them require lifelong support, leaving their parents with neither enough money nor a job.
Among this week’s protesters was Alicja Okujska, whose 25-year-old son has cerebral palsy. Okujska wants the government to pay her 500 zlotys ($145) more per month, money she says would allow her to hire a caretaker so she could run errands without her son.
“Now I need to take him everywhere with me, and it’s hard because there are no ramps or special lifts at shops or offices so I have to leave him in the street,” Okujska said as her son sat slumped in a wheelchair next to her.
“Our children are getting beggarly allowances that are not enough for the care and the equipment we need for them,” she said.
So far, the government has met some, but not all of their demands for more assistance. The say the support they receive is far too low and many are angry at what they see as insensitivity by public officials.
Government spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska offended many of the protesters when she told them this week that “most of us have to deal with misfortunes like yours.” The mothers replied that their children were not their misfortunes.
A visit by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki last weekend did not go well, either, with him seeming stiff and uncomfortable in the presence of the disabled children.
The ruling party, which had pledged to fight corruption, has also recently struggled to contain a scandal over generous bonuses paid to government ministers. Some of the bonuses were around $20,000 — more than the average yearly salary in Poland.
Amid the outcry, Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced in early April that the money would be redirected to charity and that politicians’ salaries will in the future be reduced.
Some of the protesters’ banners called for the money to go to the disabled instead.
Several other cases of government spending have raised questions. The latest, reported Friday, involves the Defense Ministry spending 4 million zlotys ($1.2 million) for benches that will be placed around the country to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Polish independence this year.
The benches are to play patriotic music, offer free Wi-Fi and have outlets for charging mobile phones.
The problems come as the party prepares for local elections this year and general elections next year.
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