Poverty risks in 2021

Poverty risks in 2021

Figures revised on 19.09.2022

Due to a correction of one of our administrative databases regarding the incomes 2020, a revision of SILC 2021 is necessary.

Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, publishes today the poverty figures for 2021 from the survey on income and living conditions (EU-SILC). In Belgium, 12.7% of the population was considered at risk of monetary poverty (AROP) in 2021. These persons live in a household with a total disposable income lower than the poverty line, which is 1,293 euros per month for a single person. Furthermore, 11.9% of the population lived in a household with low work intensity (LWI). 6.3% of the Belgian population was facing severe material and social deprivation (SMSD) in 2021.

People who are confronted with at least one of the three situations above are considered at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE) according to the European poverty indicator of the Europe 2030 strategy. For 2021, this was 18.8% of the population.

The poverty threshold hardly changes in 2021

‘We observe a decrease in the risk of monetary poverty’ says Annelies De Schrijver, EU-SILC expert at Statbel. ‘This is because the poverty threshold of 2021 has barely increased compared to 2020.’

‘The poverty threshold of 2021 is calculated with the income of 2020, the year where the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. In those income, we see a clear effect of the pandemic. For example, the median income of employees has remained more or less stable if we compare it with a year earlier. In pre-COVID-19 times, we generally see an increase. The median income of the self-employed, on the other hand, has dropped by about 20% compared to last year.’

‘In addition, more households received a housing allowance and we see an increase in the number of Belgians who received an unemployment benefit, a bridging right or another premium to compensate the loss of income.’

‘In general, we see that the loss of income due to COVID-19 was mainly for the working population. Employed people who were affected were able to compensate for that impact to some extent through government measures. This has an impact on the poverty threshold, which does not increase as usual, but rather remains the same. In addition, among the more vulnerable groups, such as retired people, the long-term sick and the long-term unemployed, we saw a slightly opposite effect. They are more likely to live on a allowance, which was indexed in 2020. They were therefore rather spared the monetary impact of COVID-19.’

Government measures had major impact

If we were to remove all allowances except pensions, 27.2% of the population would be at risk of poverty in 2021, compared to 25.6% in 2020. From this we learn that the financial measures introduced by the government during the pandemic have protected the population from poverty risks.

Regional differences in poverty rates


There are not only geographical differences. Population groups also differ substantially in their poverty risk. Monetary poverty is most common among people living in densely populated areas (20.4%), low-skilled people (23.8%), unemployed people (38%), tenants (26.5%) and members of one-parent families (25.5%). The least vulnerable are Belgians living in medium populated areas (8.2%), high-skilled (5.8%), working (3.8%) or owner of their dwelling (7.4%). People living in a household consisting of two adults under 65 are also at a lower risk (5.1%).

More than 2 million Belgians were at risk of poverty or social exclusion

All in all, 2,142,000 Belgians were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2021. More than half of them (1,329,000) had to cope with one of the three sub-risks (AROP, SMSD, LWI), while 249,000 Belgians (2.2% of the population) combined all three risks: they were severely materially and socially deprived and lived in a household with low work intensity and were at risk of monetary poverty.

Modernised indicators

In response to the new European 2030 objectives within the framework of the European Pillar of Social Rights, several poverty indicators have been modernised. They have been adapted in order to better measure deprivation and to better take into account the definitions of the active population.