The effects of the coronavirus epidemic will weigh more heavily on the well-being of the people of Belgium than the 2008 financial crisis, according to a forecast from the federal planning office.
Health, social relations, work conditions and standard of living are considered to be major factors that affect well-being – and all of those are negatively affected by the coronavirus, or by the measures taken to combat the spread of the disease.
Earlier this week, for example, the Ecolo-Groen coalition in parliament complained that the measures announced last Friday as the first part of the exit strategy were almost wholly concerned with economic matters, and barely with social questions like the ongoing separation from family and friends, now six weeks old.
One revealing indication of how the epidemic has changed attitudes: the word ‘social’ is now most commonly linked in people’s minds with the word ‘distancing’.
Of those who are suffering most, the planning office concludes on the basis of various studies, are those who live alone, with or without children, those who are unemployed or unable to work and those who have a lower educational level or had a lower income even before the lockdown.
The office is forecasting a loss of purchasing power in 2020 of 1.5%, and already one household in eight is described as “financially very vulnerable faced with the crisis, due to a combination of loss of income and a low level of savings.”
Women, it found, are more at risk of a loss of well-being than men.
Some studies, including those carried out by the university of Louvain-la-Neuve and the federal health institute Sciensano, have shown that a sizeable group of people have described symptoms which point towards the development of mental pathology, for example depression.
And those, the report says, are the vulnerable groups the government must take into account when planning the next steps in the exit strategy.