Six billion euros needed to narrow the gap between rich and poor

Sociologist Engbersen and the Studio Erasmus host talking about poverty.
Socioloog Engbersen spreekt over armoede bij Studio Erasmus
Arie Kers

Poverty is increasingly common in the Netherlands. Over 800,000 Dutch people live below the poverty line, including 200,000 children. A problem that will grow if we do not step in. Sociologist Godfried Engbersen: "It is not just about more pay. Being able to participate in society is just as important."

Professor Engbersen has been researching poverty in Rotterdam since 1985. A lot has changed since then. In the year 2000, there were no food banks in the Netherlands. Now the total stands at 172. 

Lots of work, little income 

According to Engbersen political decisions brought us at our current situation. "There have been too many cuts in social services. It was thought that we should encourage people to work and give them as little social services as possible. Now we see that people are left out in the cold."

Due to the record number of the unemployed, social services were brought back in the 1980s and 1990s. With results! Now we have 10 million working citizens and 11 million jobs. Unemployment has never been this low. Nevertheless, people still must cut back on basic necessities like food, clothing and electricity. 200,000 people out of the 800,000 below the poverty line work. "The idea used to be that if you work, you will get out of poverty. Now we see that just working is not enough. This is due to part-time work, temporary contracts and poorly paid work," says Engbersen.  

Listen to the entire interview (Dutch)

Sociologist Engbersen talking about poverty at Studio Erasmus.
Arie Kers

The Hague's magic word: livelihood security

New generations are worse off than older generations. This is a new phenomenon. The House of Representatives asked Engbersen to research the minimum needs for people in the Netherlands. He explains that this this livelihood security consists of two elements: 

  • Material security/certainty, this contains the possibility to make ends meet, not having daily financial worries and having a roof over your head. 

  • Immaterial security/certainty, this concerns the opportunity to participate in society.  

Engbersen: "You need a computer and phone. You need to earn enough so you can buy a smartphone. If you don't have those facilities, you don't participate fully. You must be able to take a trip. PlaswijckPark or the Apenheul. And, that you can go to a birthday and bring a present. That way you can participate in society." 

Watch the rest of the video on YouTube (Dutch)

Sociologist Engbersen on stage at Studio Erasmus

Professor Godfried Engbersen talks about resolving poverty in the Netherlands - Studio Erasmus

The system is unnecessarily complex. What could we adjust? 

Housing crisis, benefits crisis, energy crisis. The welfare state is struggling. There were too many cuts in social services during the 1970s and 1980s in the Netherlands, according to Engbersen. "We won't solve this problem just by raising the minimum wage. We must also consider permanent contracts, the costs of housing and healthcare and equality of opportunity in education."

"The floor we stand on must be solid for people. People need to be able to breathe again. Firmer social benefit and a higher minimum wage is a step in the right direction. But more fundamental adjustments are needed to make the floor more solid. Like I see it: there is another step to be taken," says Engbersen.  

Symptom relief or structural solution? 

The government is investing an additional €2 billion in the poverty problem. This has strengthened child schemes and raised the minimum wage. However, this is not enough to solve the problem structurally. So, what is needed? 

Engbersen and his Social Minimum Committee argue for €6 billion. "The system needs to be simpler. Topics like secure employment, accessible healthcare and equality of opportunity in education, must come to the top of the agenda. Those 6 billion euros are deemed necessary to give people breathing space to function. That way, we will come closer to solving the poverty problem in the Netherlands."

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