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Poland Faces Social Worker Shortage Amidst Shift Towards Local Social Services

CAREERSPoland Faces Social Worker Shortage Amidst Shift Towards Local Social Services

About 70 percent of people employed in the social assistance system earn close to the minimum wage. Low wages mean that there is a reluctance to work in this field. The gap is estimated to be in the tens of thousands for caregivers, family assistants, and social workers. “We’re staring into the abyss when it comes to lack of staff. We need to focus on education, providing incentives so that young people will want to study social work or social policy,” argues Dr. Mirosław Grewiński, a professor and rector at Korczak University and the president of the Polish Association of Social Policy. Furthermore, the system is set to shift towards local social services, thereby increasing the demand for staff.

“In the public social assistance system in Poland, about 156 thousand people work. These are social workers, family assistants, coordinators of various services, and of course administrative employees. Too few people work in this system, and they are poorly remunerated, which simply means that the system requires investment, mainly in professionals,” says Professor Mirosław Grewiński in an interview with Newseria Biznes agency.

The salaries of social workers are mostly slightly above the minimum. The nationwide Salary Survey from January 2023 reported that social workers earned an average net income of 3000–3900 PLN. The median salary was 3411 PLN, while the minimum wage was just over 2,700 PLN. It happens that social workers often earn less than their clients. Meanwhile, according to the Social Assistance Act, a social worker must meet several requirements to work proficiently. They require appropriate, specialized education and two-stage professional specialization.

“Today, the government talks about investing, for example, 30 percent of a teacher’s salary, whereas 70 percent of social workers will earn the minimum wage in Poland as of January 1st. The minimum wage, which are people often with higher education, specializations, real professionals,” points out the president of the Polish Association of Social Policy.

According to the new budget for 2024, the biggest pay rises can be expected by teachers (30 percent) and beginner teachers (33 percent). State employees will receive a 20 percent pay rise, but this does not apply to those working in municipal and rural offices, i.e., local government workers. They are expected to receive a 12.3 percent pay rise. The Polish Federation of Social and Social Assistance Workers’ Unions in November appealed to Donald Tusk to ensure funds for local government units for at least a 30 percent increase in salaries for workers in this sector. The Federation calls this a necessary “lifeline.”

“If we want to pay 70 percent of specialists the lowest wage, then the question is what the motivation of these people will be to deal with really difficult cases of dependent, dependent people, people with problems, dementia, Parkinson’s or other problems,” observes Prof. Mirosław Grewiński. “We need some wise thinking today, how do we want to invest in these professions and social services, which are necessary to secure social risks in the future.”

According to a Randstad analysis, social workers work an average of 8 hours a day and 40 weeks a year. Depending on the structure of a given institution, sometimes shift work can occur. However, this is only in theory, because a social worker is in constant contact with clients, also outside of standard working hours. This applies especially to crisis situations. Although social workers can count on additions for fieldwork or longer annual holiday, these are not the benefits that would attract young people to the profession.

“Firstly, we have a deficit of people in the system, secondly, we don’t have young people willing to learn these auxiliary professions, and thirdly, the staff is poorly remunerated, so there is a large outflow of people who are still working but are wondering if they will work in the near future. In other words, on the one hand, there is a great need to invest in social services, in solving social problems at the local community level, and there will soon be a shortage of people: caregivers, social workers, assistants,” is convinced by the PTPS president.

The number of people using social assistance is currently decreasing (in 2022 it was about 1.3 million people), but independence often occurs not as a result of social work, but rather due to improved financial situation, e.g., as a result of receiving benefits. In the context of an ageing society and the associated larger number of dependent people, social services should primarily be carried out at the local level. The whole system is set to change in this direction.

“We are on the verge of moving away from cash benefits in favor of the development of social services, but the question is, who will implement these services in the future if we do not invest in social professions,” explains Prof. Mirosław Grewiński. “While we still have some staff in social assistance centers, county family assistance centers, or social assistance homes, the problem will be to launch services at the place of residence. These services require fieldwork in the local community. Someone will have to visit a senior or another dependent person, spend some time with them, the problem is, there will be nobody to do it.”

Already in 2019, the Supreme Audit Office (NIK) warned that 16 of the 24 audited social assistance centers did not meet the legal requirement to employ one social worker per 50 families or single households under social assistance. Some instead of the statutory 50 had to take care of over 150 beneficiaries. Administrative overload and too many wards were indicated by 84% of social workers who participated in the NIK survey.

“On the one hand, people are leaving the profession, on the other hand, there are no young people, and the population of social workers gets older,” says the Rector of Korczak University. “Remember, the younger generation has its aspirations, and it’s not the generation from 30 years ago when we entered the labor market, we also cared about work that might pay less but is satisfying. Today’s young generation is a generation of prosperity, they have financial expectations, job attractiveness, promotion expectations. So there will be a huge dilemma on how to encourage young people to study social fields.”

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