Coronavirus: Belgium will not reduce unemployment benefits

Belgium will move to ensure that unemployed people do not see a reduction in their benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal Work Minister Nathalie Muylle told lawmakers on Wednesday that the degressive principle applied to unemployment benefits would be suspended for a period of three months from 1 April.

The measure was pushed for by members of the green party coalition Ecolo-Groen, citing lower opportunities for recruitment as the pandemic brought Belgium’s workforces and its economy to a standstill.

“Now that chances of recruitment are very low, it is not acceptable to further decrease the income of people who cannot find work, this means you push people directly into poverty,” the party wrote in an online statement.

Muylle said that those active in the artistic, amusement or events sectors, which has been hit hard by social-distancing guidelines, could also apply to prevent their payments from being cut back.

Organisers of events that have not taken place yet, such as summer festivals, are also allowed to put their employees on temporary unemployment provided contracts were signed “before the start of the pandemic.”

Unemployment benefits in Belgium start at €1,790 and can drop to €572 per month, depending on a range of criteria including a recipient’s family situation and work history, according to the latest figures from March.

The payments are subject to a reduction which authorities begin to apply from the fourth month of unemployment, and which can see the payments of some recipients cut by up to 50% of the starting amount.

Muylle said that around 900,000 people were expected to receive temporary unemployment benefits for March as a result of the coronavirus crisis, for an estimated additional expenditure of €960.8 million, De Standaard reports.

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The federal minister said that the measure would, which will be made official through a royal decree, would be evaluated after the three months if an extension is needed.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times

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