Does work pay in Belgium?

A majority of Flemish workers feel that people who don’t work are too well off financially.  Seven out of ten employed people want unemployment benefit to be lowered according to research undertaken by labour economist Stijn Baert (Ghent University). 

Hakima Farihi runs a temping agency in Antwerp and is struggling to fill vacancies. Hakima isn’t convinced work is worth the trouble: “Unemployed people are rewarded for not working.  There are social tariffs (i.e. cheaper rates for gas and electricity for people on low income) and all kinds of discounts.  People who go out to work are punished!”

She claims some people make a conscious decision not to work: “We formulate a proposal, but when they see how much they will earn they decide not to take the job.  Benefits are too high.  There should be a bigger differential.  At the moment there is a minimal difference between working and not working”.

A single mum VRT spoke to who wishes to remain anonymous says: “In the long run it’s more advantageous not to work.  You lose so many advantages when you end up in a higher wage scale”.

“You lose the advantages of higher child benefit and the higher education grants.  Your tax bill is higher.  I used to have to pay tax every year and now I get money back.  When I was working my income after tax was 100, 200 euros higher”.

“In an ideal world I would definitely take a job.  I miss the social element of work but going out to work as a single mum is hard”.

VRT spoke with Georges-Louis Bouchez, the leader of the governing Francophone liberals: “We’ve been condemning this for months.  Sometimes you make less working than when you don’t take a job!”

“Add up the energy social tariff, free childcare, free public transport, foodbank access, social housing and reduced rates for medical care and you reach an amount that puts people off taking a job”.

“It makes me so angry” responds Raoul Hedebouw of the far-left Labour Party.  “I don’t understand why labour isn’t better paid in Belgium.  He rejects the idea of cutting benefits: “That will only make people’s lives a misery and they will have less time to look for a job”.

“Belgians should earn more.  Tax on the lowest wages must be cut and the minimum wage should be raised from 11 euros an hour to 14.  Multinationals must be taxed.  That’s where the money is”.

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