Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Four in 10 Brussels residents have serious financial worries

09:20 14/02/2024

More than 2.1 million Belgians – and nearly four in 10 Brussels residents – are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, according to new figures from statistics agency Statbel.

People in this category are those who have disposable income below the poverty threshold (€1,450 a month for a single person and €3,045 for a family with two adults and two children) or people who suffer from severe material and social deprivation and cannot afford basic necessities.

It also includes those who live in low work-intensity households, meaning one in which members of working age have worked less than 20% of their potential full-time hours in the past 12 months. This group accounted for 6.1% of the population in 2023.

“Behind the national figures there are large regional differences – for each of the core indicators, the situation is most precarious in the Brussels region and least in the Flemish region,” Statbel said.

"The Walloon region is in-between, but has higher levels of poverty than the national level.

"Differences can also be seen provincially. The Flemish provinces do not differ greatly from one another in monetary poverty, with the exception of Antwerp, where a higher level is recorded.

"In Wallonia too, the differences are not very pronounced for monetary poverty, only Walloon Brabant records a significantly lower level."

Housing deprivation, an effect of poverty, is especially high in Brussels. There, 10.9% of people are living in a place that is overcrowded and dealing with one of the following: a leaking roof, damp wall or floor, rotting woodwork, no bath/shower and indoor toilet, or poor lighting. These problems hardly occur in Flanders (0.4%) and Wallonia (0.9%).

Some 36.4% of Brussels residents have no budget for a week's holiday, compared with 13.5% among people in Flanders and 31.5% in Wallonia.

According to ING Belgium economist Philippe Ledent said the widespread financial problems in the capital have one root cause: the mismatch on the Brussels labour market.

“Although there are many jobs available with Brussels companies, too many Brussels residents remain unemployed because they do not have the required qualifications, often due to a lack of training – that is really the core of the problem,” Ledent told Bruzz.

Housing is another major contributing factor. “What the statistics from the OECD show is that inequality in Belgium is quite limited compared to other countries, but in the Brussels region the divergence is greater," Ledent added. "There are also more extremes: from deep poverty to wealthy French people who come to settle in Brussels for tax reasons."

The 2023 poverty threshold rose by €84 per month to reflect rising energy prices and inflation.

But the sharp rise in the poverty threshold did not lead to an increase in the monetary poverty risk, which is 12.3% for 2023 and was 13.2% in 2022.

Compared to 2022, the situation has improved for vulnerable groups, for example, the low-skilled (from 26.2% to 23.7%), single parents and their children (from 30.5% to 25.6%), renters (from 29.1% to 26.3%) and over-65s (from 17.9% to 15.8%).

“While the share of employed people at risk of monetary poverty is significantly lower than that of the above groups, a notable increase is seen in this group: from 3.6% in 2022 to 4.7% in 2023,” Statbel said.

“The disposable income of employed people increased less than that of unemployed, retired and inactive people. While civil servants' wages and benefits were automatically indexed several times in 2022, private sector wages do not always follow the same pace.

"Specifically, delaying wage indexation meant that a share of workers fell below the poverty threshold, which was pushed upwards by (among other things) indexed benefits."

Written by Helen Lyons