The soaring cost of living is forcing many households to make tough decisions on their budgets at a time when many are already squeezed to their limits. The issue has made one study consider how much is needed to live with dignity.
A single person needs at least 1530 €/month to live more or less with dignity; a single mother with 2 young children needs 2530 €/month, according to the study 'Poverty, housing and energy' by the Institute for Sustainable Development (IDD).
These figures were identified by the study as "reference budgets" and make it possible to determine the minimum income required "to be able to participate fully in society."
The study aims to kickstart a debate. "Defining a minimum budget to live with dignity is first and foremost a political and societal choice," said Philippe Defeyt, an economist at the IDD. The amounts may look arbitrary, but they aren't any more so than the calculation of the poverty line, the researcher stated.
In Belgium, the poverty line is €1,287 per month for a single person, with 13.1% of the population at risk of poverty, according to Statbel.
How a reference budget is calculated
To calculate a 'reference budget', the study considered household expenses including rent, energy consumption, food expenditure, insurance, water, cleaning and hygiene products.
Though the study acknowledged that there might be other factors that could be considered, it stressed that at least "we can have a debate on what a person with a low income is entitled to live in pretty much correctly ." A budget of around €10 is devoted to cultural and leisure activities.
- Heat disproportionately affects less wealthy and more diverse Brussels neighbourhoods
- Those with lower incomes suffer most from inflation
- Over 70% of Belgian households own their home
Reference budgets can vary depending on the situation and can depend on whether a household has to for private or social housing and social tariffs on energy bills.
Furthermore, the study found that reference budgets are above the poverty line for tenant households in the private sector, but that's not the case when they are tenants of social housing. In the latter case, a reference budget is around the income for social integration, the financial aid granted by public social action centers (CPAS).
Inequality and low income
The study draws two key conclusions, Defeyt argues. Firstly, reference budgets are higher than the integration income as well as the poverty line used in today's Belgium.
People who live in social housing can "get by" with an integration income, as social housing saves them money. However, for those who do not have assisted living – private tenants, for instance – additional financial protections need to be put in place.
"We think we are equal in Belgium because we give the same integration income, but we are very unequal in terms of standard of living. The difference between a household that benefits from social housing and one that does not is huge," Defeyt said.
Overall, a reference budget forces a debate about living conditions and highlights inequalities for the lowest incomes.