2004 Report on the Poverty Situation (9th Poverty Report)
Part 1: poverty indicators, low income and over-indebtedness

The first chapter presents poverty indicators drawn from the statistics of the CPAS welfare centres in Brussels and other data.

After having stabilised in the late 1990s, the number of people living in poverty has increased once again. Welfare aid (“Revenu d’integration social ou equivalent”) increased by 6.6% between 2001 and 2002 and affects in particular young people, who are also to a large extent the victims of unemployment.

More than one-quarter of the Brussels population live in a household without any earned income. The amount of social integration income support for a single-parent family is less than 60% of the equivalent average income, which is used as the minimum income threshold for European poverty risk indicators.

Despite the creation of socio-occupational integration services within CPAS welfare centres, the number of welfare beneficiaries has not fallen. The support needs of individuals who have been excluded from our society exceed the resources of the CPAS system. It is above all the people who have been dependant on CPAS support for a long time who are the most difficult to re-integrate.

In 2002, in most of the outlying municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region, there has been a slight increase in the number of people living off basic welfare benefits. Although the contrasts between the richest south-eastern municipalities and the poorer municipalities in the centre remain significant, it is increasingly difficult to divide the 19 municipalities between rich municipalities and poor municipalities, given that many municipalities produce average scores for most of the indicators.

In any event the indicators available do not show a reduction in poverty in the Brussels-Capital Region. They confirm the findings of the previous report on the poverty situation. The greatest concern for the future of the BCR is not the ageing of its population, but the number of young people without future prospects, the large differences between poor and rich, the substantial expectations with regard to the welfare sector compared with the means available, and the absence of a co-ordinated policy to tackle poverty.

The second chapter of the report addresses the links between poverty, a lack of income and over-indebtedness.

Inhabitants of Brussels earn less than the country’s average, with the exception of the richest 10%. For almost half of the population in Brussels, welfare benefits are higher than earned income, while 28% of self-employed people are among the most disadvantaged.

In the Brussels Region, more than half of households cannot balance their budget: they spend more than they earn, while their expenses are overall less than the country’s average. Citizens in Brussels are more indebted than the average level nationwide.

Middle-class people are increasingly sliding into over-indebtedness, but it is the people with the lowest incomes who are the most vulnerable, whether they are claiming income replacement benefits, social integration income support, CPAS welfare benefits or the guaranteed income for elderly people and low wage earners.

Over-indebtedness is the result of the accumulation of various types of debts. Consumer credit is the biggest source of over-indebtedness. The lion’s share of the budget of Brussels households is devoted to rent, energy bills, medical and pharmaceutical expenses and taxes. Over-indebtedness is a major obstacle to participation in social life and some groups encounter specific difficulties.

From a legislative point of view, the fight against over-indebtedness is implemented above all at Federal level, except as regards ensuring minimum energy supplies and preventing cuts in domestic gas and water supplies. Debt mediation services have been approved by the three Brussels authorities in order to help citizens find a way out of their over-indebtedness.

However, prevention remains the "(very) poor relation" of the fight against over-indebtedness. While the measures taken in the framework of over-indebtedness are fundamental, the solution they offer will remain unsatisfactory as long as such a high number of people in Brussels do not have sufficient revenues to enable them to live with dignity.

The authors conclude the report with a series of social policy proposals:

* 16 proposals are based on the analysis devoted to poverty indicators and are intended to improve the gathering of data and the development of the policy to combat poverty.
* 68 proposals are based on the evaluation of the lack of income and over-indebtedness and are structured around various aspects: social welfare, social security, the organisation of social services in general, the organisation of debt mediation services, debt prevention, legal aid, federal, regional and municipal policies for combating over-indebtedness, simplifying legislation and procedures, and evaluation.

Finally, the data available for the 2004 report have been appended, at the request of the parliament and the united college, in order to meet the deadlines stipulated in the ordinance.

The second part of the report will be produced when members of the Brussels parliament have examined the report and drawn up recommendations at the various levels of power in order to combat poverty, marginalisation and social exclusion.

Roesems T., Perdaens A., April 2004

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