Disabled suspend protest

Iwona Hartwich (C-L), one of the protest's leaders PAP/Marcin Obara

A group of disabled and their parents and carers on Sunday suspended a 40-day protest in demand of more financial aid in the Sejm (lower house) building in Warsaw.

One of the protest's leaders, Iwona Hartwich, said the decision to halt the protest had been unanimous, and stressed that one of the reasons was concern for the health of the disabled taking part in it. She added that the protest's suspension did not mean it was over.

Marzena Stanewicz, a protesting mother of a disabled child, told PAP that the sit-in was being suspended in view of the government's refusal to negotiate with the protesters.

"We cannot permit ourselves to be ignored by the government. A government that did not want to speak with us although we came out with four compromise proposals,' Stanewicz complained. She also voiced regret over the president's failing support of the protesters.

Government spokesperson Joanna Kopcińska called the protest's suspension a good decision, and invited the protesters to further talks on improving the situation of the disabled. In this context she reminded about the government's plans to build a comprehensive support system for the disabled and their families.

The sit-in began on April 18, the protesters demanding a financial aid hike to the level of the minimum work disability pension, a demand that has since been met, and a PLN 500 (EUR 117) special benefit payment for disabled people over 18 who are incapable of independent subsistence.

On May 14, President Andrzej Duda signed into law a bill raising the monthly social benefit for disabled adults who have never worked to PLN 1,029.80 (EUR 242.36) from PLN 865.03 (EUR 203.58), thus levelling the benefit with the minimum allowance received by those who worked and paid social insurance contributions before becoming disabled.

The president also signed into law a bill offering severely disabled people special rights in access to healthcare, pharmaceutical services and medical equipment.

However, the protesters continued to demand the PLN 500 benefit as of next year. Labour and Social Policy Minister Elżbieta Rafalska said on Thursday that granting the allowance only to disabled whose disability began before the age of 18 would be "unconstitutional." Kopcińska said at the time that the two new laws signed by the president were an adequate response to the protesters' demands.