The government of Flanders, following outrage over its planned cuts to the cultural sector, is now facing protest from social groups at its decision to suspend subsidies for projects aimed at getting socially vulnerable groups involved in culture, youth activities and sport.
The so-called participation projects target groups such as the poor, the handicapped and former prisoners, who all often suffer from social isolation, which can be damaging to health as well as encouraging addictions to drugs and alcohol.
The projects have been supported by the government in the past, most recently in a round of pay-outs in August worth €518,000. But the sector has now learned that, like the arts and culture, it must look forward to a cut in subsidy of 6% in the coming year. As a result, another scheduled subsidy round due in February will not now take place.
“There are other urgent requirements in the participation police,” said an official in the office of minister-president Jan Jambon. “These projects can always apply under other subsidy headings.”
Jambon’s announcement came just as Flanders had joined together for the 19th edition of De Warmste Week (the warmest week) – a live 24-hour broadcast by Studio Brussels, this year from Kortrijk, in which listeners pledge donations for a variety of causes, including blindness in the developing world and poverty at home. This year the event raised €17.5 million and nearly 12,000 hours of volunteer work pledged.
The suspension affects those projects that come up for one-off and annual subsidies. Projects which have been granted multi-year subsidies will continue to be funded.
Meanwhile the participation policy will turn towards new priorities, such as the strengthening of local networks, and the provision of prison libraries.
Opposition party Groen was critical of the decision. “Organisations that work for the participation of disadvantaged groups will remember The Warmest Week of 2019 as cold, harsh and merciless,” said Staf Pelckmans. “Forcing through a decision like this in the middle of the holiday period is really pretty cynical.”