The Working Poor in Europe

The Working Poor in Europe

Employment, Poverty and Globalization

Edited by Hans-Jürgen Andreß and Henning Lohmann

For a long time in-work poverty was not associated with European welfare states. Recently, the topic has gained relevance as welfare state retrenchment and international competition in globalized economies has put increasing pressures on individuals and families. This book provides explanations as to why in-work poverty is high in certain countries and low in others.

Chapter 3: When Famialism Fails: The Nature and Causes of In-Work Poverty in Belgium

Ive Marx and Gerlinde Verbist

Subjects: development studies, development studies, economics and finance, labour economics, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, economics of social policy, labour policy


Ive Marx and Gerlinde Verbist INTRODUCTION Gauging from comparative studies, including those which appear in this book, Belgium enjoys a relatively low incidence of low pay as well as a comparatively low poverty rate among its working-age population. Nevertheless, the ‘working poor’ constitute a significant proportion of the working-age population living in relative poverty. In this respect, Belgium is not atypical in the Continental European context (see Lohmann and Marx in this volume). Belgium presents a particularly interesting case study when it comes to the particular nature and causes of in-work poverty as it manifests itself in the Continental European welfare states. Belgium bears many of the hallmarks of what Esping-Andersen has called the conservative welfare state model, in which the Christian Democratic ‘subsidiarity principle’ has institutionalized familialism in the sense of supporting the malebreadwinner/female-caregiver model. Belgium’s labour market and welfare state remain geared towards the breadwinner: minimum wages are comparatively high, job security protection is elaborate, derived social security rights extensive; the tax system supports the sole breadwinner model, and so on. On the surface, Belgium appears to epitomize the archetypal European welfare state caught in a ‘welfare without work’ conundrum. Because of its largely defensive response to economic change – partly in an effort to preserve breadwinner-type jobs – the country seems to have found itself trapped in a vicious circle of high spending on social transfers, high taxation and sluggish job growth – all to the detriment of women’s employment chances, especially those of the least skilled. There...

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