Belgium’s government is to propose to its social partners to increase minimum unemployment allowances, Social Integration Minister Denis Ducarme (Reformist Movement – MR) said on Sunday on RTL-TVi. The Government planned before the holidays to accelerate the reduction of unemployment allowances in the second and third phases of unemployment, known as degression, but increase them in the first phase, under a jobs deal aimed at helping professions that face shortages of workers. Other planned measures include freezing degression if the jobseeker pursues training for a profession experiencing such shortages.
Accelerated degression means jobseekers will find themselves faster in the third phase of unemployment where they receive only a flat fee varying according to their civil status. Unions strongly condemn this measure since, they say, it causes jobless persons to sink faster into poverty. For a single person, the unemployment allowance for the third phase is 1,031 euros per month, which is below the poverty line.
“That’s very low and we are aware of it,” Ducarme acknowledged on RTL-TVi’s “C’est pas tous les jours dimanche” (Every day is not Sunday) programme. “That’s why the Government will propose to the social partners to review the lowest unemployment allowances.”
However, the General Federation of Belgian Labour, FGTB, doubts the Government’s sincerity. It points to statements made in October by the Secretary of State for the Fight against Poverty, Zuhal Demir, expressing skepticism about the possibility of raising minimum social-security allowances to match European poverty levels.
The federation has questioned the rationale for degression. “No serious study shows that when you reduce allocations, people suddenly become more available,” said FGTB President Robert Verteneuil. “You’d have to explain to me how a Carrefour cashier about to lose her job in a few weeks will become a computer engineer or nurse just like that because she is going to land faster in the third phase.”