“Many people in poverty do not have a smartphone, computer or internet access”

The public employment service of Belgian Flanders (VDAB) reform puts people in poverty are risk. VDAB focuses fully on digital services. Poverty organizations warns: “this raises the threshold for the most vulnerable.”

According to Flemish Employment Minister Philippe Muyters (N-VA), the new application of the VDAB should help job seekers find a job using artificial intelligence. 

Due to digitalisation, the number of workshops, where job seekers can go for tailor-made support, is being phased out. “There are four or five stores per province,” says Tilly Troost of the socialist trade union ACOD. Outside city centres, many workshops are replaced by appointmentsAccording to the VDAB, it is merely a way to organize the operation better.

The more people can find their way digitally, the more time is left for those who still need the workshop,” says Muyters’ cabinet, but not everyone at the VDAB staff is convinced. “We must be able to reach out to people”, emphasizes Troost. “The job-seekers themselves are not informed that there is a change.”

Poverty organizations Netwerk voor Armoede and Samenlevingsopbouw also warn against unintended side effects of the reform. “There are too few guarantees for the most vulnerable in the new service,” says Nicolas Van Praet of Netwerk voor Armoede, who fears that they will miss out. Many people in poverty do not have a smartphone, computer or internet access. Making contact via e-mail or app therefore remains a high threshold.

That they will no longer be able to simply enter a workshop in many places, is therefore problematic. After all, mobility is another barrier for people in poverty. “They often do not have a driver’s license or car, so they rely on public transport, but that has also been phased out of city centres, so one has to look carefully beforehand:” Is there a bus? Will I get there in time?”, explains Van Praet.

According to the poverty organizations, the VDAB had better first discussed the reform with the people most in need of guidance. The Network against Armoede was only contacted once.

Source: De Morgen