The implementation of the ‘Family 500+’ programme in April 2016 represented a significant shift in public support for families with children in Poland. The programme guaranteed 500 PLN/month (approx. 120 euros) for each second and subsequent child in the family and the same amount for the first child in families with incomes below a specified threshold. As of July 2019, the benefit has been made fully universal for all children aged 0-17, an extension which nearly doubled its total cost and benefited primarily middle and higher income households. We examine the labour market implications of both the initial design and its recent fully universal version. Using the discrete choice labour supply model, we show that the initial Family 500+ benefits generated strong labour supply disincentives and were expected to result in the withdrawal of between 160-200 thousand women from the labour market. The recent removal of the means test is likely to nullify this negative effect, leading to an approximately neutral impact on labour supply. We argue that when spending over 4% of GDP on families with children, it should be possible to design a more comprehensive system of support, which would be more effective in reaching the joint objectives of low child poverty and high female employment combined with higher fertility rates.
Following the 2015 parliamentary elections in Poland the ruling Law and Justice Party was quick to fulfill their campaign promise of implementing a generous quasi-universal family support programme. In April 2016, all families began receiving PLN 500 (approx. 120 euros) per month for each second and subsequent child, while households that passed an income means test were granted the same amount for their first or only child. At a cost of nearly PLN 22 billion (5.2 billion euros, approx. 1.1% of GDP) per year, the Family 500+ benefit became the flagship reform of the Law and Justice government’s first term.
With new elections approaching in October this year, the government announced a significant expansion of the programme in May, which made it fully universal. The extended programme is nearly twice as expensive with an additional cost of PLN 18.3 billion (4.3 billion euros) per year, valuing the whole package at over 2% of GDP. This takes the total value of financial support for families with children, including family benefits and child-related tax breaks, to 4% of GDP and it means that as far as family support is concerned, the ruling party has brought Poland from one of the lowest-spending countries in the EU to one of the highest over the course of 4 years.
The initial design of the benefit had a significant impact on childhood poverty in Poland, with an absolute and relative decrease from 9.0 to 4.7 percent and 20.6 to 15.3 percent respectively between 2015 and 2017 (GUS, 2017). While a more targeted design could have made a far greater impact, these changes still reflect a significant improvement in the material situation of families with children. The policy may have also had a modest upward effect on fertility rates in the first years following its implementation, although this is difficult to assess given the parallel roll out of several other fertility-oriented policies and other changes which could have played a role in family decisions. Simultaneously, as argued in the ex-ante analysis by Myck (2016) and ex-post analysis by Magda et al. (2018), these positive outcomes came at the cost of reduced female labour market participation. This reduction primarily affected women with both lower levels of education and living outside of large urban areas (Myck and Trzciński, 2019).
The Family 500+ Reform: Design and Distributional Implications
The initial Family 500+ programme directed funds to 2.7 million families in addition to any already existing financial support and has been excluded from other means-tested support instruments. Since families that had a net income of less than PLN 800 per month per person could receive the benefit for the first or only child, the policy had a distinct redistributive element and meant that the bottom half of the income distribution received nearly 60% of the funds. However, the design was characterised by clear labour market disincentive effects, which were particularly strong for second earners and single parents.
In a one-child household (53.3 percent of families with children, GUS, 2016) with the first earner bringing in an income equivalent to 125% of the national minimum wage, the second earner needed only to earn PLN 940 per month in order for the family to cross the means test threshold and stop receiving the Family 500+ benefits. The benefit design is presented in Figure 1 in the form of budget constraints for the first earner (Case A) and the second earner (Case B) in a couple with one child. In the latter case the first earner is assumed to receive earnings equivalent to 125% of the minimum wage. The disincentive effects of the means test are clear in both cases and we can see that for the second earner, the benefit withdrawal comes at a very low income level – far below the national minimum wage of PLN 2100 per month. The “point withdrawal” of the benefit implied that it was enough for the family to marginally exceed the means test threshold for it to completely lose eligibility for the Family 500+ support for the first child.
The expansion of the Family 500+ programme, which came into effect in July 2019, eliminated the means-tested threshold thus making the policy fully universal. It came, however, at the cost of the redistributive character of the programme. Over 32% of the additional expenditure resulting from the universal character of the policy has been passed on to the top quintile of the income distribution and in its new version, the bottom half of households only receive 45 percent of all spending. The expansion of the programme is thus unlikely to further reduce child poverty significantly and – since its beneficiaries are mainly families with middle and high incomes – it is not expected to bring noticeable changes in fertility levels.
Source: Authors’ calculations using the SIMPL microsimulation model.
Partial and Full Universality of the Family 500+ Programme and the Implications on Female Labour Supply
With the use of modelling tools to simulate the labour market response to changes in financial incentives to work, we have updated the initial simulations of Myck (2016) using the latest pre-reform data and examined the simulated labour supply decisions to the expanded fully universal programme, as if it were implemented instead of the initial version of the benefit. The analysis was conducted with data from the 2015 Polish Household Budget Survey, a detailed incomes and expenditure survey conducted annually by the Polish Central Statistical Office.
Results of the simulations are presented in Table 1. Simulations were conducted separately for single women, and under two scenarios for women in couples assuming that both partners adjust their behaviour (Model A) and that the labour market position of the male partner is unchanged (Model B). The simulated labour supply response to the initial reform confirms the magnitude of earlier results and suggests an equilibrium effect of 160-200 thousand women leaving the labour force. This is also consistent with results presented by Magda et al. (2018), who found that female labour market participation decreased by approx. 100 thousand women after the policy had been in place for one year.
However, as we can see in the right-hand part of Table 1, the response to a fully universal design – modelled as if it was introduced in 2016 instead of the means-tested version – is essentially neutral. For single mothers the reduction is only about 3000, while for women in couples, the model suggests a small positive reaction under the Model A specification and a small negative one under Model B. In total, the universal design of Family 500+ benefits can be described as labour supply neutral. Since the reaction has been modelled on pre-reform data, and because some women have already withdrawn from the labour market after the introduction of the initial benefit design in 2016, the remaining uncertainty is whether the new set of incentives will motivate these mothers sufficiently to return to work.
The introduction and subsequent expansion, of the Family 500+ programme has substantially increased financial resources of families with children in Poland. The policy rollout of the initial, partially universal programme has seen substantial changes in the level of child poverty in Poland and may have contributed to a modest increase in fertility in the initial years following the introduction of the reform. The means-tested design of the benefit, however, incentivised a significant number of women to leave the labour market. One year after the introduction of the policy approximately 100,000 women were estimated to have left the labour market (Magda et al. 2018), while the equilibrium effect of the policy suggested long-run implications of over 200,000 (Myck, 2016). The updated simulation results using the latest available data suggest slightly lower, though still substantial equilibrium implications of the initial partially universal design of the Family 500+ programme in the range of between 160,000-200,000. However, as we show in our latest analysis, these labour market consequences could be reversed after the expansion of the programme to a fully universal set-up. The simulated effects of the universal design of the programme, which has been in place in Poland since July 2019, modelled as if it was implemented instead of the initial means-tested version, are broadly neutral for female labour supply. The only question is how likely the mothers who left employment in response to the initial policy will return to work given the new set of financial incentives. Considering these positive implications of the fully universal programme, one has to bear in mind that the extended programme, which will cost over PLN 40 bn per year (approx. 2% of GDP), is unlikely to contribute to the other key objectives set by the government, namely reducing child poverty and increasing fertility. Including the Family 500+ programme, the Polish government currently spends about 4% of GDP on direct financial support for families with children. Given the design of the policies which make up this family package, it seems that the joint objectives of higher fertility, reduced poverty and higher female employment could be achieved more effectively under a reformed structure of support that would be better targeted at poorer households, include specific employment incentives, and incorporate support for childcare, early education and long-term care.
This brief summarizes the results presented in Myck and Trzciński (2019). The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, through the FROGEE project. For the full list of acknowledgements see Myck and Trzciński (2019).
- Goraus, K. and G. Inchauste (2016), “The Distributional Impact of Taxes and Transfers in Poland”, Policy Research Working Paper 7787, World Bank.
- GUS (2016), “Działania Prorodzinne w Latach 2010-2015”, Główny Urząd Statystyczny – Polish Central Statistical Office, Warsaw.
- GUS (2017), “Zasięg ubóstwa ekonomicznego w Polsce w 2017r.”, Główny Urząd Statystyczny – Polish Central Statistical Office, Warsaw.
- Magda, I., A. Kiełczewska, and N. Brandt (2018), “The Effects of Large Universal Child Benefits on Female Labour Supply”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 11652, IZA-Bonn.
- Myck, M. (2016), “Estimating Labour Supply Response to the Introduction of the Family 500+ Programme”, Working Paper 1/2016, CenEA. Jacobson, L., LaLonde, R. and Sullivan, D. (1993). “Earnings losses of displaced workers”, American Economic Review, 83, pp. 685–709.
- Myck, M. and Trzciński, K. (2019) “From Partial to Full Universality: The Family 500+ Programme in Poland and its Labor Supply Implications”, Ifo DICE report 3 / 2019.
2016 was the first full calendar year of the new Polish government elected to power in October 2015. The year marked a number of major changes legislated in the area of socio-economic policy some of which have already been implemented and others that will take effect in 2017. In this policy brief, we analyse the distributional consequences of changes in the direct tax and benefit system, and discuss the long-term implications of these policies in combination with the policy to reduce the statutory retirement age.
The Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) won an absolute majority of seats in both houses of the Polish Parliament in the parliamentary elections of October 2015. Earlier that year, Andrzej Duda of PiS was elected President of the Polish Republic. In both cases, the electoral victories came on the wave of pledges of significant financial support to families with children and to low-income households, especially pensioners. The new president pledged to cut back the pension age to the levels prior to the 2012 reform, which introduced a gradual increase from 60 and 65 to 67 for both women and men, and to nearly triple the income tax allowance. Following Duda’s victory in May 2015, PiS reiterated these pledges in the parliamentary election campaign and added the promise to increase the total level of financial support for families with children by over 140% through a nearly universal benefit called “Family 500+” and to hike the minimum wage by over 8%.
Despite a rather tight budget situation, the government went ahead with the “Family 500+” and successfully rolled it out in April 2016 (Myck et al., 2016a). The new instrument directs support of 500 PLN per child per month (110 EUR) to all second and subsequent children in the family in the age group between 0 and 17. Benefits for the first child in the family in this age group are granted conditional on overcoming an income threshold of 800 PLN (180 EUR) per person per month. Since April 2016, over 2.7 million families have received the benefit and 60% of them received the means tested support (if they have more than one child this is paid out in combination with the universal benefit).
The second key electoral pledge – to increase the tax allowance from 700 to 1,850 EUR at an estimated cost of 4.8 billion EUR – has so far been postponed (CenEA, 2015a). Increases in the allowance became a major policy issue in October 2015 when the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that maintaining its level below minimum subsistence, as it was at the time, was unconstitutional. To satisfy the Tribunal’s ruling, the allowance would have to increase to ca. 1,500 EUR at a cost of nearly 15 billion PLN (3.4 billion EUR, and about 0.8% of GDP, CenEA 2015b). Instead of a simple increase in the allowance, the government decided to implement a digressive tax allowance for 2017. This raised the value to the required minimum subsistence level for the lowest income tax payers, but since it is rapidly withdrawn as taxable income rises, the allowance will be unchanged to a large majority of taxpayers and will cost the public purse only 0.2 billion EUR (CenEA, 2016). This policy will be more than paid for by the fiscal drag given the decision to freeze all other parameters of the tax system, which will cost the taxpayers 0.5 billion EUR (Myck et al., 2016b).
The policies that directly affect household budgets will in total amount to about 5.5 billion EUR in 2017 (1.3% of GDP and 6.2% of the planned central budget expenditures) and will include also an increase in the minimum pension to benefit about 1.5 million pensioners. The cost of the “Family 500+” reform makes up the large majority of this value (5.4 billion EUR). Households from the lower income decile groups will benefit the most from this reform package, with their monthly disposable income increasing on average by 15.1% (ca. 60 EUR). High-income households from the top income decile will see their income grow on average by only 0.5% (see Figure 1). Overall, nearly all of the gains will go to families with children, with single parents gaining on average about 95 EUR and married couples with children about 84 EUR per month. Other types of families will, on average, see negligible changes in their household disposable incomes (see Figure 2). Thus, the implemented package clearly has a very progressive nature and redistributes significant resources to families with children.
Figure 1. Distributional consequences of changes in direct tax and benefit measures implemented between 2016-2017
The pension age and public finances in the years to come
The most recent major reform, legislated at the end of 2016 and which will come into effect in October 2017, represents an implementation of yet another costly electoral pledge. This policy has overturned gradual increases in the statutory retirement age, initiated by the previous government in 2012. Despite the very rapid ageing of the Polish population, the new government decided to return to the pre-2012 retirement ages of 60 and 65 for women and men, respectively. This comes at a time when, according to EUROSTAT (Eurostat, 2014), the old-age dependency ratio in Poland, i.e. the proportion of the 65+ population to the working-age population, will grow from the current 24% to 27% in 2020 and to 40% in 2040. With the defined contribution pension system, the shorter working lives resulting from this change will be reflected in significantly reduced benefits (Figure 2). For example, pension benefits of men retiring in 2020 will on average be 13.5% lower than the pre-reform value. For women that retire in 2040, the pension benefits will on average fall by 15.2%, which corresponds to a 43% lower benefit than the pre-reform value, and with consequences of the reform becoming more severe over time. The reform will also be very costly to the government budget. In 2017, it is expected to cost 1.3 billion EUR and its full effect will kick in after 2021, when the cost of the reform will exceed 3.9 billion EUR per year (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Reducing the statutory retirement age and its implications on pension benefits and public finances
Since coming to power in October 2015, the PiS government has implemented a majority of its costly electoral pledges. Direct changes in taxes and benefits will cost 5.5 billion EUR in 2017 and benefit primarily those in the lower end of the income distribution and in particular families with children. The reduced statutory retirement age will add an extra 1.3 billion EUR in 2017 and as much as 3.9 billion EUR four years later. The very generous “Family 500+” programme has significantly reduced child poverty and may have important positive long-term effects in terms of health and education for today’s beneficiaries. However, its fertility implications are still uncertain and the programme is expected to reduce the employment rate among mothers. While the government maintains that its financing is secured, it is becoming clear that maintaining the policy will not be possible without higher taxes.
The government came to power claiming that the implementation of this programme will be based on reducing tax fraud and that only a small fraction will be financed from tax increases. While it seemed likely at the time when these declarations were made, the expected major shift in the reduction of tax fraud has yet not materialised. The government have withdrawn from the pledge of reducing the VAT and from assisting those with mortgages denominated in Swiss Francs, while its income tax allowance reform was nearly thirty times less expensive compared to that announced in its electoral programme.
With a very tight budget for 2017 based on relatively optimistic assumptions, the key factors determining further realisations of the generous programme will be the rate of economic growth and related dynamics on the labour market. Developments of the labour market will also be essential for the longer-term economic success of the implemented reform package. This relates both to the future level of participation of women and to the success of extend working lives of people who will soon reach the new reduced retirement age.
- CenEA (2015a) Konsekwencje prezydenckiej propozycji podwyższenia kwoty wolnej od podatku (Consequences of the presidential proposal to raise the incoem tax allowance), CenEA press release, 3 December 2015.
- CenEA (2015b) Co z kwotą wolną od podatku po wyroku Trybunału Konstytucyjnego? (what will happen to the income tax allowance after the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal?), CenEA press release, 13 November 2015.
- CenEA (2016) Zmiany w kwocie wolnej od podatku za 800 mln rocznie (Changes in the income tax allowance at the cost of 800m per year), CenEA press release, 29 November 2016.
- EUROSTAT (2014) Eurostat – Population projections EUROPOP2013, access 21 December 2016.
- Myck, M., Kundera, M., Najsztub, M., Oczkowska, M. (2016a) 25 miliardów złotych dla rodzin z dziećmi: projekt Rodzina 500+ i możliwości modyfikacji systemu wsparcia. (25bn for families with children: plans for the Family 500+ reform and other options to modify the system of support.), CenEA Commentaries, 18 January 2016.
- Myck, M., Kundera, M., Najsztub, M., Oczkowska, M., 2016b, Zamrożony PIT i utrzymane wyższe stawki VAT – jak brak zmian w podatkach wpłynie na budżety gospodarstw domowych? (Frozen PIT and higher VAT – how lack of changes in taxees will affect househod budgets?), CenEA Commentaries, 05 October 2016.
- Council of Ministers (2016) Position of the Council of Ministers on the presidential bill proposal, Warsaw, 25 July 2016.