Scientists worry about the foundations of the welfare state

Sixteen University professors have come together to warn against the damage that unemployment benefit reforms can cause.

The warning came in an open letter published on Monday in Le Soir and the Standaard and signed by renowned academics from Belgian universities – Francophone and Flemish – and the London School of Economics.

The academics feel it is extremely risky to make unemployment benefits more degressive, as was decided this summer under the Jobs Deal, a Government programme aimed at dealing with skills shortages.

They note that there is no scientific evidence that gradually reducing unemployment allowances would send more people looking for jobs. They also point out that unemployment insurance is supposed to protect the jobseeker against income loss. “Given this argument, too, it would be better for social benefits to increase with the length of unemployment rather than decrease,” they wrote.

“An even faster reduction in allowance levels could possibly run counter to what is economically justifiable,” the academics said in their conclusions. “Before taking decisions that could have very negative consequences for the foundations of our welfare State, the Government would be well advised to have this issue examined in the required depth.”

Federal Employment Minister Kris Peeters of the Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V) party has no apparent intention of rolling back the reform. His cabinet says that, whatever the modalities, the philosophy of the reform – questioned by the academics – will not be modified.

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