680,000 Flemish people live in poverty, yet government scraps 2020 target goals
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    680,000 Flemish people live in poverty, yet government scraps 2020 target goals

    Combatting poverty is clearly not a priority for the government, according to experts. Credit: Flickr/Pascal Maramis

    680,000 people in Flanders live in poverty according to new figures, yet the Flemish government is no longer imposing targets on itself to combat them.

    The most recent figures on poverty in Belgium and Flanders are “perturbing”, according to the ‘poverty barometer’, an initiative by Decenniumdoelen (Decennium goals), that unites several organisations combatting poverty and gives an annual overview of the situation.

    10.4% of Flemish people live in poverty, which corresponds to about 680,000 people, or about half of the people living in the Antwerp province. The percentage has fluctuated between 10 and 11% since 2006, despite the Flemish government’s initial intention to cut that percentage in half.

    “We have known for some time that the earth is warming up. Our society, on the other hand, is getting colder and colder, it turns out,” said Jos Geysels, the chairman of the Decenniumdoelen, reports De Morgen.

    One in seven children grows up in an underprivileged family, according to the child poverty index of Kind & Gezin, a government agency responsible for the provision of child and family services in Flanders. The percentage of children living in poverty has more than doubled since 2006.

    According to the figures, the risk of poverty remains stable, but for some specific groups like unemployed people, single-parent families, tenants, and non-EU immigrants, it is growing.

    Yet the Flemish government avoid even mentioning the word poverty in its new coalition agreement, according to Geysels. Especially the disappearance of an objective for lowering poverty from the agreement does not sit well with him, he said.

    In 2009, the Flemish government said to strive towards the Pact2020, which meant giving every family an income that would be above the European at-risk-of-poverty threshold. However, they scrapped the 2020 goal from the new coalition agreement. “They have seen that they would not meet their objective, so they left them out,” said Geysels, reports Het Laatste Nieuws.

    The problem is not that the Flemish government is not taking initiatives, but that poverty clearly is not a priority, according to Bea Cantillon, a poverty expert at the UAntwerpen university. “You can see a clear line in this government’s policy: employment”, she said. “Employed people get a lot of benefits. In fact, these figures show that this is not necessarily where the big problem lies. People who do not or cannot get a job are the victims of this policy. The figures show us that those who do not work are the most vulnerable to poverty,” she added.

    In total, 16.4% of Belgians live in poverty, according to the figures.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times