Belgian poverty figures show shocking regional differences

29 April 2019

“You help children in poverty by helping the whole family.” The N-VA responds to a newspaper article stating that one in nine minors in this country grows up in a family with no income from work. As always, these Belgian figures hide large regional differences, the party notes. In Flanders, 7.3% of children grow up in a family in which nobody works. In Wallonia, however, the number is 16.2%, and in Brussels it is as high as 23.2%, respectively more than double and triple the figure for Flanders. So there is still a great deal of work to be done everywhere, but the regional differences do show where that work is needed most. And so those differences must not be glossed over in this discussion. The Flemish model, with its activation policy, is the most effective and therefore also the most social one. It avoids the dogmas that are often applied to the matter by other parties.

Shouldering responsibility

The difference is shocking. “Belgian intergenerational poverty in figures,” says the N-VA, “and to a great extent the result of a benefit policy versus an activation policy. You help children in poverty by helping the whole family. Everyone is responsible for taking charge of his or her life, but that is not always equally easy for everyone. Sometimes life itself can deal a person a bad hand and people can be born in poverty or simply end up falling into it. Then it is the task of the government to help. Yet the ultimate goal of a solid poverty policy must be to get people to cope independently again.”

Wake-up call

“It is for example striking what the French-speaking parties think about the GPMI (Geïndividualiseerd Project voor Maatschappelijke Integratie - Individualised Project for Social Integration), a tailor-made contract between the OCMW (Public Social Welfare Centre) and the customer in which a programme with rights and obligations is worked out in order to get a person out of dependence on benefits as well as social isolation. Just take a look at the committee reports on its expansion by this government. For the PS and Ecolo, that GPMI tool is completely asocial and paternalistic,” says the party. “And this while it has been applied in Flanders for a considerable time now, and its effect has been proven. To tackle the deep poverty gap between the federal states, a wake-up call really is necessary.”

Confederal reset

Just last week, the CD&V defended the status quo of our employment model, but for our party these figures show that things have to be tackled in a fundamentally different manner: “The confederal reset really is necessary. Decentralisation of wage formation, making unemployment benefit activation-based, and also introducing a real activation policy at the OCMWs. We have lately enjoyed a period of favourable prospects in the employment market, but there are still a great many people that we are not reaching.”

Modern social assistance

Limiting unemployment benefits in time is an activation measure that we must dare to take, says the N-VA. From the limitation of the benefit for new graduates we have learned that only a third, and in Flanders much less than that, of the target group has to make a claim to the OCMW. And that this group is then also better off with the more comprehensive assistance that the OCMWs can offer. After all, anyone who is long-term unemployed often has a broader issue that needs to be addressed. Instead of making them structurally dependent on an unemployment benefit for more than 5 or 10 years, we prefer to help them on their way to social integration and to the employment market via a modern social assistance approach.

Guiding the way to the employment market

In Flanders we are also providing intensive assistance to any young person who graduates but does not find work. Every young person who leaves school without a diploma of secondary education is automatically registered with the VDAB The Vlaamse Dienst voor Arbeidsbemiddeling en Beroepsopleiding (VDAB, Flemish Public Employment and Professional Training Service) is a Flemish public service that coordinates supply and demand in the employment market, with its main task consisting of serving as an intermediary for job seekers and providing them with support in getting back to work. Since the State reform in 1989, job placement has been a competence of the Regions and job training a competence of the Communities. The VDAB’s counterpart in Wallonia is Forem, and Actiris in Brussels. VDAB (Flemish Employment Agency). And we also want to oblige every newcomer who follows a Civic integration Flanders has a policy for civic integration. This is a guided and targeted form of social integration for people of foreign origin. The intention is that the newcomers are provided with a valuable place in society by including them instead of excluding them. Civic integration, which includes language lessons and civic integration courses, was brought about by the participation of the N-VA in the Flemish Government since 2004 and the appointment of a Minister for Civic Integration. civic integration programme to register with the VDAB. In this way, the VDAB can assist the newcomer on his or her way to finding work. Our goal is to guide the way to the employment market once again for all welfare payment recipients, via neighbourhood work and temporary work experience, among other things.

Complete autonomy

“We also want the regions to get the complete autonomy to provide for mandatory municipal service for long-term unemployed as a step in their path to work. And every hour worked must be made worthwhile. Here we want to increase the net wage further so that the difference between a benefit and paid work is sufficiently large. At the end of the day, the whole system has to be in place before we can increase the benefits even further. Only in this way do you really tackle poverty,” advocates the N-VA.

According to the party, Flanders is on the right track. “And we must continue down this track. Preferably with extensive sets of competences so that we are no longer the victim of an insufficiently ambitious employment market policy at federal level.”

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