Home-ownership and asset-based welfare: the case of Belgium

Decker, Pascal; Dewilde, Caroline
June 2010
Journal of Housing & the Built Environment;Jun2010, Vol. 25 Issue 2, p243
Academic Journal
In this article, using policy documents and both qualitative and quantitative data sources, we evaluate the extent to which the Belgian welfare system conforms to trends towards asset-based welfare involving the promotion of home-ownership as an alternative to social security provision. We conclude that, following the explicit and ongoing sponsorship of home-ownership since the end of the 19th century, in Belgium, an asset-based approach to welfare has actually been in place for some time. Most Belgian elderly people are income-poor (mainly due to low public pensions) but asset-rich. While the risk of poverty for home-owners in old age is somewhat higher than that for the general population, it is much higher for elderly renters. As far as the preconditions for a possible restructuring of the Belgian welfare state in the direction of greater reliance on asset-based welfare are concerned, we find that most of them are fulfilled. Public debt is high with increasing costs of population ageing looming large on the economic horizon. However, although some politicians have raised the issue, so far, virtually no initiatives have been taken to tap into existing housing wealth. Our qualitative evidence shows that this can be partly explained by the fact that Belgians have a rather conservative attitude towards the welfare state, which is expected to provide adequately for ‘traditional’ life-course risks such as unemployment and old age. Housing is considered a private issue, separated from the social security sphere.


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