A record number of children in Flanders were born last year into poverty, in most cases as a result of low incomes and/or unemployment of their parents, according to an annual register compiled by the family organisation Kind & Gezin. Family poverty in 2017 touched 13.76 of all infants aged up to three years – 1% more than in 2016. The problem is most prominent in the 13 “centre cities” such as Sint-Niklaas, where the rate went up from 19.6% to 22%, and in Turnhout where the rate has gone up 3.8% to 27.3%.
“There are limits to what we can do about poverty,” said Kris Van der Coelden, chair of the social aid agency OCMW in Sint-Niklaas. “We can come up with solutions here and there, for example by building more social housing, but other essential measures like strengthening rental laws or freezing rents are beyond us.”
According to poverty experts like Wim Van Lancker of the university of Leuven, the government needs to take a structural approach, including policy on the labour market and the rental housing market. “Here is where the Flemish and the federal governments are responsible, but as far as actions are concerned, they’ve failed miserably,” he told De Morgen.
Last year also saw a record number of families unable to pay their energy bills, the Flemish regulator Vreg revealed. 2017 saw an increase of 20% in the number of repayment plans set up, following an increase in 2016 of 25%.
The repayment plan allows energy consumers in financial difficulties to pay off their debts over time, while agreeing to measures to limit their ongoing consumption with the use of budget meters for electricity and gas.
In most cases, the agreement on a payment plan puts a stop to the procedure to cut off electricity supplies. In comparison to an increase of 20% in families unable to pay, the number of those whose supply was cut off rose by only 3% in 2017, Vreg said.