Elections 2024: Who should I vote for if I want lower unemployment?

In the run-up to the June elections, Belgium's political parties are staking out their positions on key issues. Today we look at where they stand on the issue of unemployment. 

The number of fully unemployed people in Belgium has been falling for years. Since 2015, there has been huge job growth, due to a more service-oriented economy, a strong focus on activation, meaning stricter monitoring of the unemployed, and an ageing population, which means there are more opportunities for young workers. 

Yet many parties make work and unemployment an election issue, simply because getting more people into work means the government has to provide fewer benefits. It can therefore help reduce the giant budget deficit. On top of that, re-activation of the unemployed is much needed to address the labour shortage. So how do the parties intend to do that?

Reduction in benefits over time

Virtually all parties say they are committed to reducing unemployment. Disagreement is mainly over how. The central question in the debate: should long-term unemployed people lose their benefits over time? 

According to most parties, the answer to this question is yes. Flemish liberal party Open VLD, for instance, wants to increase unemployment benefits in the first three months, but then reduce them every three months to finally disappear after two years. The same goes for the sister party on the Walloon side, MR. 

Far-right Vlaams Belang and Flemish nationalists N-VA also support a time limit on benefits. But where the former wants exceptions, including for people over 55 and carers, the latter thinks the moment you lose your benefits should depend on the number of years you have worked, with a maximum of two years.

Christian democrats CD&V, too, want to phase out unemployment benefits, but over a three-year period. Les Engagés, on the French-speaking side, concur with these views but want unemployed people to be automatically offered employment contracts in the public or voluntary sector, or even in a private company, which would benefit from a subsidy in this case, after two years. 

On the left, parties do not envisage a limit to unemployment benefits and want to guide people into the labour market in other ways. For example, socialists Vooruit want to monitor more strictly whether jobseekers fulfil their duties and impose sanctions if they do not, while the far-left PVDA mainly wants to provide additional resources for the Flemish employment service VDAB. Green party Groen also does not see a phase-out of benefits over time. The French-speaking leftist parties, PS, PTB, Ecolo and DéFI, concur. 

Increase in living wages and other benefits?

The second bone of contention in the discussion on work and unemployment is the amount of benefits.

On the Flemish side, it is clear: the majority of the parties propose an increase in benefits. Groen and PVDA want to raise all benefits above the poverty line. Vlaams Belang would also increase benefits to the poverty line, but introduces separate social security for migrants. Vooruit and CD&V, on the other hand, argue for a gradual increase that safeguards the difference between benefits and wages. 

N-VA and Open VLD, in turn, want to put a brake on benefits by slowing the rate of growth of health insurance spending and by being stricter in ensuring that those who can work do so. For instance, the liberals want to link social benefits to income level rather than status, so that being unemployed doesn’t necessarily mean better and more benefits, and N-VA wants a ceiling on social benefits to motivate people to go back to work sooner. 

Across the language border, there are similar views: leftist parties want to bump the benefits. PS, Ecolo, PTB and DéFI are generally in favour of raising the benefits, whether or not subject to conditions. MR and Les Engagés, on the other hand, want to widen the gap between wages and benefits and thus get unemployed back into work as soon as possible.


The Chomeur.se.s en colere (angry unemployed people) group holds a protest at the local offices of the CSC union to protest against delays in the payment of benefits, 2022 © BELGA PHOTO GABRIEL MITRAN

In the run-up to the elections for the federal, regional and European parliaments on 9 June, Belga English explains how the parties in Belgium want to address today’s challenges. Each day we put the spotlight on one issue.

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