Record number of Belgians on a benefit

The federal employment agency (RVA) paid out a record high of 1.3 million benefits last year. A quarter of the Belgian working population is on a benefit now. This year, this number is expected to go up even more as the number of unemployed is expected to rise even further.

The number of 1.3 million applies to different types of benefits: monthly unemployment benefits but also benefits for people taking temporary leave for various reasons.

In 2009, due to the economic crisis, the number of permanently unemployed in Belgium increased with some 30,000 to reach 434,000. The number of temporary unemployed rose with 75,000, and the number of employees taking temporary leave also went up. This resulted in the RVA paying out 1,309,930 Belgians last year.

It is expected that the number of unemployed will rise with another 40,000. This is not good news, but the figure is down on the expected figure of 75,000. "There are some hopeful signs that we don't want to ignore and that we simply can't ignore", Claudette Coninck of the RVA says. "On the other hand, we are keeping our feet on the ground and we realise that the economic crisis is not over yet."

"Service cheques" popular

In the mean time, the so-called service cheques are gaining popularity. The cheques can be used by people to have a common household chore done, like cleaning or ironing. People who are hired, are paid by means of a service cheque.

The government introduced this system to have people pay at least some VAT instead of evading it by working without any sort of contract. The number of service cheques used in Belgium went up with some 20 percent last year and kept many women out of unemployment statistics, the RVA points out.