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'Wave of poverty' expected to hit Brussels in winter, says social welfare expert

A woman holds a sign reading "The electric companies rob us. The government their accomplice" as she protests the rise in electricity prices in Madrid, Spain, Oct. 6, 2021.
A woman holds a sign reading "The electric companies rob us. The government their accomplice" as she protests the rise in electricity prices in Madrid, Spain, Oct. 6, 2021. Copyright AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Copyright AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
By Sandor Zsiros
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Rising energy bills are expected to hit the poorest most hard later this year.


The Belgian capital is likely to see a significant rise in poverty this winter, according to one expert.

Khalid Zian, president of the Public Centre for Social Welfare (CPAS) in Brussels, told Euronews that due to spiking energy bills, many of the poorest people could be pushed into a difficult situation.

"We expect there to be a wave of poverty rolling over the city of Brussels, over the region because indeed, we have characteristics specific to the region," Zian said. "We have a lot of tenants and homes that are energy sieves and are not sufficiently insulated or where energy consumption is not controlled."

The CPAS president recently started an information campaign at local markets about their options for help, saying that, so far, requests by families for assistance have doubled.

The Belgian federal government has already announced a plan to try to contain the evolving crisis, including a social energy tariff for the poor, a cut in VAT for gas and electricity, and increased support for the renovation of houses.

But Zian says these measures are not enough and he wants to see a new European market regulation where energy becomes an essential good.

"We think energy is an essential good. It must escape the laws of the traditional market. We need a regulated market where European states or even Europe can set ceilings. Everyone needs energy," he told Euronews.

Euronews spoke to Belgian Quentin Spitaels, who said his gas and electricity bills have exploded this year.

For his four-bedroom house close to the city of Namur, he now pays €659 for utilities every month, before previously paying €200. The father of four says the Belgian government's measures to contain the social crisis are not enough.

"I don't think it's enough given the number of households that are in this situation," Spitaels explained. "We don't know if we will have to do something similar like in Great Britain where there is a movement which is telling people not to pay their bills anymore. And that can make politicians react in a stronger way."

For László Andor, secretary general of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), many European countries' safety nets are too weak.

"This is a big task for a social safety net in countries where the social safety net is not strong enough, they need to reinforce it. And this might be the time to roll out new types of basic services," Andor said.

"Now, the time might have come for universal basic services to roll out services which make the situation manageable for the most vulnerable social groups. Heating is one critical area where some kind of intervention is necessary. It can vary country from country to country."

He added that this could be funded by moving towards a more progressive income tax system.

"This may be also the time when governments can reform tax systems. In Europe, seven or eight countries still have flat income tax, personal income tax. So this might be reconsidered. And those which are maintained flat in context can introduce progressive income taxation and then help financing the necessities and strengthen the social safety nets."

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