Almost 30,000 unemployed in Flanders have been out of work for more than five years, with sector analysts putting this down mainly to unstable personal circumstances. They highlight the need for a more flexible approach to unemployment.
Belgium continues to see many professions – especially bottleneck jobs in education, care, and construction – struggling to fill vacancies. Various measures have been launched to tackle these staff shortages and increase the employment rate, but so far these have not been effective in addressing the key group of long-term unemployed.
While the share of this group has decreased since 2010 in Belgium, there are still almost 30,000 job seekers in Flanders who have been unemployed for over five years, said Flemish MP Tom Ongena (Open VLD). In addition, 10,127 unemployed people in the region have been unsuccessfully looking for a job for more than a decade.
"One in six job seekers in Flanders has been looking for a job for five years or more. At the same time, there are so many vacancies," he wrote on Twitter, adding that these people received an average of only 0.17 job applications from the region's employment services VDAB last year. "The VDAB has given up on them."
VDAB stressed that the number of long-term unemployed has dropped and explained that there are fewer job applications for long-term job seekers because the agency struggles to find employment opportunities for the chronically unemployed.
“If someone has been looking for work for more than two years, the chance of matching them with a job becomes much smaller. More training and support is then needed and that takes time," Joke Van Bommel, spokesperson for VDAB, said.
The regional agency argued that another share of this group, some 17,500 people, can no longer be directed towards work because they are not in a stable situation, have fallen into deep poverty or have other problems. "Our mediators are not trained to solve these kinds of problems. Other agencies are better placed to help them further.”
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Ongena argues it is time for a different approach and called on the government to job limit unemployment payments to two years. This would be followed by counselling by cities and municipalities, with compulsory community service. "This would allow other possible problems to be addressed and people keep in touch with the labour market."