Do you think the welfare state is self-defeating and actually makes people poorer? Are the poor people themselves responsible for their situation? Is delivery of welfare by the government and – indirectly – by the taxpayers economically efficient or inefficient. Which incentives should be given by the government?
Several poor people are poor because of their self-destructive lifestyle choices, their own stupid decisions, their self-chosen family situation, their involvement in crime, their drug use, their welfare dependency, their lack of effort in school, their lack of general discipline and their inability to plan for the long term. But not all of the poor people can be put in the same box.
The poor classes and their offspring have responded to the ongoing burden of poverty by developing values and attitudes that perpetuate their poverty, and they socialize the next generations into these values and attitudes.
If the citizens of a state have to pay large amounts in taxes in order to fund the welfare state, they can’t or won’t create the wealth that is the basis for redistribution.
Poverty evolution in Flanders
Up to 21st century
The welfare state as it has developed in Belgium reflects how our society has dealt with “social problems” in the past and still does so today. Strangely enough researchers did not take off from the background at first and considered poverty as a matter of “personal guilt”
There were the Golden sixties when everything seem to blossom in Flanders. Everybody should have had enough possibilities to climb up the ladder and to improve the financial situation. Ground could easily be bought and houses build.
There was enough work so those not at work were considered persons not willing to work and bringing poverty over them because of their own fault.
In the seventies more and more firms went broke, people lost all their belongings either by losing their job, or because an accident of illness. Some people came into spirals were they did not seem to be able to get out. Measures were of a repressive or charitable nature and were intended to discipline the poor. Through a system of private insurance, citizens had to guarantee themselves against personal risks such as illness or accidents.
Later, social rather than personal factors were identified as being the root cause of poverty (e.g. the economic climate). A “social accident model” emerged and influenced the development of the Belgian welfare state. On 7 August 1974, for the first time, an income was guaranteed for all Belgian citizens as a “subsistence minimum” and this measure was, at the time, intended to be the cornerstone of the social security system. The implementation of that law was entrusted to the Public Centres for Social Assistance (C.O.O.), which were replaced by the Public Centres for Social Welfare (O.C.M.W.) in 1976.
The link between unemployment and poverty though is not clear-cut. In many countries rapidly growing unemployment in the seventies and early eighties did not lead to more poverty. Some countries experience high poverty rates at the same time as high (non-subsidised) employment.
The definition of poverty used for the purposes of international comparisons, is: “the number of people living in families with less than half the median equivalised family income”. Under this definition, in 1985 a total of 4.4 per cent of the population lived in conditions of poverty in Belgium. Though from the mid-1970s the centre parties had made an approach to welfare which made establishment of conditions for human dignity a prime objective and called for the active participation of the poor in the design of policies and services.
Our welfare state seemed to become in a crisis. Demand for low-skilled labour declined and the newly created jobs were for the new gadgets and became highly qualified jobs in the services sector. The emancipation of women had brought new people on the work floor and let the labour force to grow spectacularly; notwithstanding that economic activity among men aged 50 to 65 had been greatly reduced. But by getting rid of those experienced labourers lots of time in (re-)education was lost.
Barely 54% of the labour force was at work in 1985. The proportion of households receiving unemployment benefits increased from 15 to 23%. Having no work at first in the 80ies those dependant on dole money could not receive a job later because they were considered too old. They became long-term benefit dependants which normally should have been brought back into to the labour market by a re-education. More work had to be made of increasing the productivity capacity of the long-term unemployed through training. I am convinced that Employment significantly reduces the poverty risk. Also today we can see many elders coming into the danger zone because they are not allowed to take an extra job or they are sanctioned because they go to work while also being retired. Today we have to face a seven per cent of the population which is hit by lengthy incoming poverty. Meanwhile remains the inequality increase: the income of the 10% poorest lies 28 times lower than that of the 10% richest.
In 1989 the Flemish Intersectoral Committee for Poverty Reduction (VICA) was established to be a consultative forum. In 1992, the year that the federal government ordered the elaboration of a report on poverty, “theme groups” were set up within VICA to work on specific aspects of policy for the underprivileged with the objective of gaining a more in-depth knowledge of the problem and to propose relevant policy solutions. It took two years of intense mobilisation and dialogue to write the 1994 General Report on Poverty, resulting in over 300 policy proposals. At the end of 1994, this report was submitted to the government. A number of initiatives have been developed since then, including: consultative bodies, Interministerial Conferences for Social Integration, legislative initiatives, and awareness-raising campaigns.
 Belgian Welfare State, Vranken and Geldof, 1993, pp. 31-32.
 Seynaeve and Simoens, 1995, p. 5
 Back to basics: the case for an adequate minimum guaranteed
income in the active welfare state, Bea Cantillon and Karel Van den Bosch
 Förster, 1994, Table 1, p. 10.
 Vercammen, 1999, p. 19
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