N-VA surfs on resentment against benefit recipients


May 6, 2024
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The fact that the N-VA wants to freeze social benefits by five index jumps makes the party vulnerable to criticism that it is cold and harsh. Yet chairman Bart De Wever mainly surfs on the popular idea that benefit recipients are pampered too much.

It was remarkable how N-VA chairman Bart De Wever, when presenting the 14 billion euro savings plan last week, emphasized that he not only wanted to reward work more, but also wanted to punish non-work. The party uses the carrot and the stick to guarantee that the difference between working and not working is at least 500 euros.

In concrete terms, in the run-up to the elections, the N-VA proposes to reduce the increases on top of the indexation, which were granted to benefit recipients under Vivaldi, by applying a five-fold index jump for, for example, unemployment benefits and living wages. ‘Sweating out those increases’ is what De Wever called it.

It makes the N-VA vulnerable to criticism that it is a callous and cold party, a label that the party was also given in previous election campaigns. Sander Loones heard this accusation again on Sunday during a debate in ‘The seventh day’ on the VRT with Groen co-chairman Jeremie Vaneeckhout, Flemish Minister of Welfare Hilde Crevits (CD&V) and Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD).

More important than keeping benefits low is to guarantee that social benefits also go to workers with a low income.

Ive Marx

Economist (UAntwerp)

Even the dark blue liberal Van Quickenborne accused the N-VA of being too tough. An additional increase in benefits, from the welfare envelope, on top of the index is also not possible for the liberals, except for pensions. ‘But we think an index jump, as the N-VA proposes, is too hard and too far-reaching. Look at Van Hool’s employees. They didn’t choose it,” Van Quickenborne said.

In response, De Wever criticizes that other parties themselves make ‘little well-founded’ plans, which are ‘at odds with the policy pursued over the past four years’, but criticizes the N-VA for coming up with calculated plans. The N-VA chairman is responding to the feeling that election promises are unbelievable if they have not been calculated.

What the N-VA is really concerned about is the popular feeling among workers that benefit recipients get all the benefits. Reference is made to a survey last year by Ghent University among employees. This showed that the most popular reform to make work more rewarding is to intervene in benefits, as labor market specialist Stijn Baert posted on X on Monday.

De Wever’s criticism of Vivaldi is also that an ‘enormous transfer’ has been organized ‘from working people to non-working people, not coincidentally the largest voter group of the Parti Socialiste’. De Wever said this during an election meeting in Ghent, where he criticized the fact that the hardworking Flemish is the most feathered chicken. It fits into the big picture of a savings model vs. a tax model, in other words the N-VA model versus the PS model

Political choice

Nevertheless, experts, such as economist Ive Marx (University of Antwerp), question the freezing of benefits. ‘That is a political choice, if you want benefits to lag behind wages and longevity again. The question is what good is pushing benefit recipients back to the poverty line after finally catching up?

According to Marx, work should be made more attractive and benefits should not be frozen. “More important than keeping benefits low is to ensure that social benefits also go to workers with low incomes,” Marx believes. That is what the N-VA is aiming for, by tailoring social benefits more to income. Although, according to Marx, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that social benefits effectively reach those who need them.

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The article is in Dutch

Tags: NVA surfs resentment benefit recipients


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