A new study paints a harrowing picture of the current financial predicament of many Belgians, showing how Europe's energy crisis has pushed many to the brink of full-blown economic catastrophe.
According to a recent study by Testaankoop, a Belgian consumer protection and analysis firm, 27% of Belgians are unable to save any money at all at the end of each month — a rise from 25% in April last year. One in eight have recently turned to friends and family members in order to make ends meet.
The study also found that 57% view their financial situation as "significantly worse" than 2021. Women, the unemployed, and people living in Brussels or Wallonia are overwhelmingly more likely to have been affected by Europe's sky-high energy prices and soaring inflation rate.
Moreover, roughly a third of Belgians claim that they are simply unable to absorb any further price increases; 40% are now dipping into their savings to pay the bills.
"We hope the government listens to this message and takes it really seriously," said Laura Clays, a spokesperson for Testaankoop, told De Morgen. "Many consumers feel that there should be more control over these rising prices."
Economic misery and political mistrust
The latest study comes against the backdrop of a number of other surveys and recent reports that tell a similar story of growing economic despair. A December study found that more than three in four Belgian independent retailers fear bankruptcy over the coming months; another report noted that many Belgians are resorting to burning household items such as plastic bottles, straw mattresses, and old pieces of furniture in order to stay warm this winter.
In addition, senior businessmen and European politicians have warned of significant job losses and even of Europe's potential "deindustrialiation" in the near future, as companies relocate to Asia or the US to take advantage of lower energy costs and generous government subsidies.
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Meanwhile, the profits of fossil fuel companies have soared this year as a consequence of limited global energy supply – largely exacerbated by Western sanctions on Russia. Moreover, another study published earlier this year found that the richest 1% of Belgians now own a staggering 24% of the country’s wealth.
It is highly likely that such intensifying economic inequality has further undermined the trust Belgians place in political and business leaders. The Testaankoop study noted that more than half of all Belgians are unsure as to whether the recent hikes in energy prices are economically justified. Seven in ten believe energy companies are raising prices mainly to boost profits.
"An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics," the Greek philosopher Plutarch once wrote. The Belgian Federal Government would be wise to heed this ancient warning.