The coronavirus pandemic affected everyone differently, but it did highlight the inequalities already present in Belgian society, according to research carried out by the university of Louvain-la-Neuve and the socialist centre for permanent education (Cesep).
The researchers from UCL (including the Saint-Louis university in Brussels) and Cesep allowed, the paper says, an unprecedented opportunity to study a situation as it happened.
“If the pandemic surprised us, troubled us and worried us, it also surprisingly allowed us to be almost synchronised for once with what is happening to us.”
• 32% of people had lost a portion of their income, to a value of €665 for the duration of the lockdown. Those suffering most were those already on low incomes and young people. By contrast, 50% saw their spending go down more than their income, bringing a net gain. That was the case mainly for pensioners (whose income remained stable) and those on incomes higher than €2,500 a month.
• 73% of those in an atypical working situation – freelances, temporary workers, the self-employed – lost all or part of their income during the lockdown.
• 87% changed their consumption habits, ranging from shopping more locally (31%) to cutting out all non-essential purchases (22%).
• 41% of women reported fatigue as one of the main consequences of the crisis, compared to only 31% of men. The reason: the need to combine work with family responsibilities.
• 63% said their working conditions had changed, with 93% saying they had encountered new problems. For those on telework, the lack of social contact was a major problem, whereas less time spent commuting, flexible working hours and the ability to combine work and family were seen as positives.
When at the start of the lockdown the government declared some jobs essential, that amounted to 44% of all employment. However 88% of those who responded to the poll said their jobs were essential. “In all sectors, there is a gap between how the government perceives the importance of the activity and how the worker perceives it,” the report says.
That difference of evaluation was largest in the cultural sector (93% compared to the government’s 12%), art and design (95% and 17%) and teaching and research (91% and 24%).
For 90% of respondents, the post-Covid society should integrate some important changes: the guarantee of a job for all in first place, society turning towards the principle of ecological change, the recognition of the most socially useful jobs, the creation of a sustainable investment fund, and the democratisation of companies.
Further down the list, 73% support a radical reduction in working hours.
The authors of the study recognise that it did not concern a representative sample of the French-speaking Belgian public, participants being recruited online and mainly via social media. It was also more female, older and more highly educated than the average.