Esther Moelands from Breda has a long list of health problems. She was on welfare six years ago. “After working for years, my health deteriorated so much that I couldn’t work anymore. I just get sick.”
Esther was surrounded by prejudice. “‘Are you on welfare? You’re so smart,’ people would say.” She now works an average of six hours a week for her own company. A special corporation for welfare recipients has helped her with this. “I build websites. I can organize my own time and work a maximum of one and a half hours a day. Then I am really broken.”
She is not allowed to keep the money, because she receives a benefit of just under 950 euros per month. “I was only allowed to keep part of my income during the first half of the year. But now for years not a cent has been added to my account.” Yet she is convinced: better this than no work at all. “Otherwise I would go crazy. You also want to do something useful.”
Esther is an exception. 414,000 people are currently on welfare, the CBS has calculated. Less than seven percent of people on social assistance do some form of work. That costs the government 6.4 billion euros per year.
Current law fails
Social assistance recipients fall under the Participation Act. The law, introduced in 2015, regulates that people receive benefits, but also aims to get people back to work. In practice, little comes of this, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment concludes in a new report.
Because it hardly pays to work. Sometimes people even lose out because they are being cut on their benefits. Young people on social assistance are not even allowed to earn anything at all.
‘This is inexplicable’
That is inexplicable, says Minister Schouten. She believes that work should pay. A part-time job can be a nice stepping stone to permanent work so that someone can get out of welfare.
Schouten explains: “We are therefore going to ensure that people earn more. And that they can earn more for longer.” At present, people entitled to social assistance are only allowed to keep part of their income for the first six months. Not a cent more after that six months.
Some groups are not even allowed to earn anything extra when they are on welfare. Schouten also wants to change that.
The House of Representatives still has to approve its plan. VVD MP Daan de Kort believes it is important that the Participation Act provides guidance to new work. “We have to amend a law that stands in the way.” According to the VVD member, more attention should be paid to what people on welfare can do. He sees a lot of benefit in offering training courses.
Esther has a big dream: one day to get out of that welfare. But she has to remain realistic: “I hope it works and my health allows it. Everything will be fine.”