Use a co-ordinated approach to fighting poverty, minister tells city councillors

Summary

Flanders’ health and welfare minister has written an open letter to city councils on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty to urge them to use four basic policy principals

Co-operate, support and communicate

Flemish minister Jo Vandeurzen, responsible for health, welfare and families, sent an open letter to the region’s municipalities today, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Following the local elections of last Sunday, cities and towns across the region are now in negotiations as to which city councillor positions – as well as the mayoral post – will go to which political parties. Vandeurzen (pictured) wants to encourage city councils to put poverty issues at the centre of their leadership priorities.

“While the effects of local poverty policies are not immediately visible to everyone,” writes Vandeurzen, “a strong local social policy can make a huge difference in the lives of vulnerable residents.”

He goes on to point out that the fight against poverty needs to happen at every level of government and mentions his regional government’s programmes and policies. “But there are also many measures that can be taken at the local level that limit the consequences of living in poverty and give people another perspective.”

Four principles

He suggests basing poverty policies on four basic principles: Co-ordination among councillors, support of agencies and organisations, helping with direct measures and interventions and communicating successes to the provincial, regional or federal governments when needed.

In terms of co-ordination, Vandeurzen doesn’t want the fight against poverty to exist in a vacuum but rather be taken into consideration across all policies, be it urban planning, mobility or culture. “Poverty is an accumulation of problems from a variety of issues: health, family, housing, work, education and leisure,” he writes. “People living with poverty are often shifted from place to place, are not understood and often stop trying because they feel like there are loose ends with every offer of help. City councils can act as co-ordinators, linking services and organisations in order to tackle these intersections of issues from every angle.”

You can actively look for groups that are underserved and do not take advantage of their right to support

- Minister Jo Vandeurzen

Support goes along with this; Vandeurzen would like to see local councils reaching out to organisations that work towards eradicating poverty, such as drug treatment programmes, mental health clinics and family organisations. “In our regional health and welfare policies, we also support the work of diverse initiatives. You can appeal for partners from various expertise centres, like Kind en Gezin. Grab a hold of these opportunities.”

His helping principle includes direct and concrete initiatives. “You can focus, for instance, on qualitative debt mediation, actively look for groups that are underserved and do not take advantage of their right to support or approach vulnerable groups when it comes to, say, promoting healthy food or exercise. You can decide to give vulnerable families low-cost access to child care. You can combat loneliness and isolation.”

And Vandeurzen wants city councils to report progress and successes to higher levels of government. “Local councils are in the best place to suggest measures to other governments,” he writes. “That could be based on contacts with social workers or with other actors working on the issue, even with people living in poverty themselves. All these people are perfectly placed to ascertain problems and propose policy changes.”

Finally, the minister wants councillors to remember that poverty comes with a stigma attached. “So it’s extremely important to pay specific attention to vulnerable people across all services.”

Photo: Thierry Rogge/BELGA