Last year, poverty threatened 13.4% of Limburg residents
Statbel figures show that in 2021, 13.4% of Limburg residents were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. That corresponds to about 118,000 Limburg residents. On average in Flanders, this proportion was just slightly lower (12.4%). Compared to the other Flanders provinces, the risk of poverty and social exclusion was only higher in the province of Antwerp (15.8%). In West Flanders, the risk was lowest (9.6%).
Compared to the provinces across the language border, Limburg did do a lot better. In all the Walloon provinces, more than 1 in 5 of all residents were at risk of poverty. The province of Hainaut took the crown: 29.1% of the population was at increased risk of poverty or social exclusion. The average in Wallonia was 24.9%. The Brussels-Capital Region had the highest risk of poverty. More than 1 in 3 residents (35.3%) risked falling into poverty.
We should emphasise that these are figures for 2021. With the continued rise in energy prices and higher food costs, the number of people at risk of poverty is only likely to increase this year. Moreover, the poverty threshold, one of the criteria by which poverty and social exclusion are calculated, barely went up in 2021. After all, that poverty threshold is calculated based on 2020 incomes, which had barely risen by COVID-19. That too, will be different this year, due to automatic wage indexing, putting even more people at risk of poverty.
8.3% of Limburg residents lived in a household with low work intensity
One of the criteria by which Statbel predicts the risk of poverty is the proportion of residents in households with low work intensity. This is a household in which the 18 to 64-year-old members collectively worked less than 20% of their total potential. More than 8 in 100 Limburg residents (8.3%) lived in such households in 2021. On average in Flanders, this was somewhat lower (6.8%). In Flemish Brabant, the proportion of people in a household with low work intensity was the lowest (4.8%). Notably, in recent years a downward trend was identified in all Flanders provinces except Limburg, where the proportion remained stable.
In addition to low work intensity, Statbel also predicts the risk of poverty by social and material deprivation and monetary poverty. Residents who face severe social and material deprivation are citizens who lack the financial ability to do certain activities or purchase items considered normal by others. Citizens with incomes below the poverty threshold are at risk of monetary poverty. For these two poverty risk criteria, the Limburg results are more in line with those of the Flanders average.
Work as a buffer against poverty
Previous research, by e.g. the Federal Planning Bureau, had already indicated a negative correlation between employment and the risk of poverty, albeit to a limited extent.  Work can thus be considered a buffer against poverty, although other factors certainly do play a role as well.
This correlation is also apparent when the 2021 figures for the risk of poverty are plotted against the employment rate in each of the Flanders provinces. Poverty and social exclusion tend to be less of a threat for residents in provinces with higher employment rates. West and East Flanders thus combine a relatively high employment rate (77.0% and 79.2%, respectively) with a lower than average risk of poverty.
The opposite is true for the provinces of Antwerp and Limburg. Lower employment rates in both provinces (72.7% and 73.0%, respectively) are associated with a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion. Limburg is doing better than Antwerp, however, especially in terms of the risk of poverty.
Flemish Brabant is the outlier. Although the employment rate (74.3%) there is lower than the Flanders average (75.3%), the risk of poverty among the population there is also relatively low.
Work is an important lever in the battle against poverty and social exclusion. More people in work results in fewer households with low work intensity, fewer residents below the poverty threshold, and fewer socially and materially disadvantaged citizens. This means boosting the employment rate is also very important when considering the risk of poverty. Limburg can and certainly must make strides in this regard.