From its start, the COVID-19 pandemic toppled daily life and called for many societal changes that still linger today. Prior to the virus’ spread, a 2012 study showed 16.7% of citizens under the age of 18 were living in households with an income below the poverty line.
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Belgium, where the poverty line for a two-income home stands at €2,256 a month, represents a notable issue. Several key areas in the country experienced the impact of the pandemic.
Access to Education
School closures became incredibly challenging for children of low-income families because of their difficulty of access to the technology necessary for remote learning and a stable internet connection. COVID-19 posed the threat of widening the educational disparity between incomes by further displacing a cohort that was already at a disadvantage in the classroom.
In response to the difficulties, the Belgian government invested €10 million into bringing back retired teachers into the school to help make up for lost time. Additionally, schools were able to vet which students required spare equipment for the remote style of learning and equipped them as needed.
One of the first things to go as a consequence of the lockdowns was regular social interaction. For those already facing financial strain prior to the pandemic, the new isolation torpedoed some Belgians’ mental health and access to their support systems.
During the pandemic, 59% of the population reported feeling lonely as a result of COVID-19 mitigation. Unemployed persons or those suffering from illness have reported feeling “very lonely.”
A 2021 OCED report revealed that the response to the pandemic green-lit most of the risk factors for poor mental health, especially for those experiencing financial insecurity and lack of educational engagement. The report highlights the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Belgium as the same report shares that levels of anxiety across the country nearly doubled, heightening the stress of an already vulnerable demographic.
Nonprofits, including Mental Health Europe, sought to improve mental health aid for people across Europe by promoting initiatives that would allocate the necessary resources. The program also provided viewers with tips to improve their well-being that does not require expensive treatment.
To combat the feelings of isolation, communities banded together to form “caring neighborhoods,” which encouraged neighbors to check in on their peers to help satisfy their needs regardless of age, a 2021 Brussels Times article said.
People in financial hardship faced increased difficulty accessing adequate hygiene necessities and medical attention. To ensure that all Belgians regardless of financial background were not prone to the virus, the government issued a voluntary dose of the vaccine for free. The government also promised at the start of the pandemic to ensure “social protection,” stating that citizens would have guaranteed access to health care. If citizens could not afford medical costs, they would receive allowances and credits to meet their needs.
While Belgium’s economic future remains unclear following the pandemic, the European Commission revealed a “recovery and resilience plan.” Details included €5.9 billion in grants aimed at investments accelerating the transition towards a low-carbon and “climate-resilient economy.” In addition, the plan anticipates a 0.9% rise in GDP leading into the 2026 fiscal year. Efforts like this aim to lift Belgium out of the hardships imposed by the pandemic and set the country on a path to economic progress.
– Michael Mardones