Material and social deprivation

Growing up in poverty

Growing up in poverty

In Belgium, one child out of seven (14.5%) lives in a household at risk of monetary poverty. Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, has examined what it means for children to “live below the poverty line”.

For a third of them (33%), this means not having new clothes, only second-hand clothes, and for 14% of them, not having at least two pairs of shoes.

For financial reasons, 7% of children living below the poverty line do not eat meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every day and 3% do not eat fruit and vegetables every day. Almost 10% do not have any age-appropriate books, 16% do not have any outdoor toys and 11% do not have appropriate toys.

Monetary poverty also affects the children’s social life and hinders their participation in age-appropriate activities. Thus, for a quarter of them (24%), the financial situation of their household prevents them from taking part in a leisure activity such as joining a sports club or youth movement, and for 14% of them from simply inviting friends over to play. Going on holidays one week per year is also financially impossible for almost 6 children out of 10 (58%).

Finally, among school-age children living in a household at risk of monetary poverty, 17% do not have a sufficiently spacious and quiet place to do their homework and study.

These figures come from the Survey on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) 2021, which asked more than 7,500 Belgian households about their income and living conditions. The EU-SILC survey looked specifically at material deprivation among children. Households with children under the age of 16 were asked specific questions about the possession of certain goods or participation in age-appropriate activities.

Children considered to be at risk of monetary poverty live in a household with a total disposable income below the poverty line, which is 2,703 euros for a household of 2 adults and 2 children under 14. The basis of the calculation is the poverty line for a single person that amounts to 1,287 euros per month.

In addition to the sole criterion of monetary poverty, it can be seen that children are more vulnerable to material deprivation when they are part of a single-parent family, have at least one parent of non-European origin or belong to a renter household.

14% of children from renter households do not have a suitable place to do their homework, compared to 1% of children from owner households.

There are also regional differences. Children are often more vulnerable in Brussels than in other regions. For example, 15% of children under the age of 16 living in Brussels are financially unable to afford new clothes, whereas this percentage is 11% in Wallonia and 6% in Flanders.


The impact of the COVID-19 restrictions can be seen in the answers to questions on various aspects of social life such as “being able to participate regularly in a leisure activity” and “having friends over to play or eat from time to time”. In 2021, a significant proportion of respondents indicated that children did not do it for reasons other than lack of financial resources.


Percentage of the population in a situation of severely material and social deprivation (SMSD)

Severe material and social deprivation - Belgium 2019 2020 2021
Total 6.3% 6.7% 6.3%
Per region
Brussels-Capital Region 13.7% 13.5% 11.5%
Flemish Region 3.6% 3.9% 4.4%
Walloon Region 8.6% 9.5% 8.0%
Per gender
Men 6.2% 6.5% 6.2%
Women 6.4% 6.9% 6.4%
Per age group
0-17 8.4% 8.1% 8.6%
18-24 4.9% 5.8% 4.7%
25-49 6.3% 7.0% 6.6%
50-64 7.2% 7.5% 6.8%
65+ 3.1% 4.0% 3.0%
Per household type
1 adult with child(ren) 17.2% 19.3% 16.9%
2 adults with child(ren) 5.0% 5.2% 5.6%
2 adults without children, at least one 64+ 2.0% 2.1% 2.5%
2 adults without children, < 65 4.2% 4.9% 3.4%
Single 11.1% 11.6% 9.6%
Other 4.4% 4.7% 4.2%

Percentage of the population in a situation of material and social deprivation (MSD)

Material and social deprivation - Belgium 2019 2020 2021
Total 11.0% 11.0% 10.2%
Per region
Brussels-Capital Region 21.2% 20.5% 17.2%
Flemish Region 6.5% 6.6% 6.7%
Walloon Region 15.9% 15.8% 14.1%
Per gender
Men 10.8% 10.6% 9.9%
Women 11.3% 11.5% 10.4%
Per age group
0-17 13.1% 11.9% 12.1%
18-24 8.5% 10.4% 9.9%
25-49 11.4% 11.4% 10.6%
50-64 12.7% 13.2% 11.4%
65+ 7.0% 7.2% 5.9%
Per household type
1 adult with child(ren) 29.7% 28.6% 24.6%
2 adults with child(ren) 8.6% 9.2% 9.2%
2 adults without children, at least one 64+ 4.9% 4.4% 4.4%
2 adults without children, < 65 8.6% 7.5% 5.5%
Single 18.4% 18.7% 15.8%
Other 7.6% 7.6% 7.5%

Purpose and brief description

"EU-SILC" (European Union - Statistics on Income and Living Conditions) is a European survey on income and living conditions and an important tool to map poverty and social exclusion at Belgian and European level.

In Belgium, the EU-SILC survey is organised by Statbel. Every year, about 6,000 households (or 11,000 people) are surveyed and followed up for a maximum of four consecutive years. In the SILC survey, social exclusion is regarded as the result of several factors such as income, employment, health and education level.


Private households

Data collection method and sample size

CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interview) - Due to COVID-19 situation, temporary switch to CATI (Compter Assisted Telephone Interview).


± 60% (N= ± 7000 households).



Timing publication

First quarter after survey year



Calculation of the monetary poverty risk (AROP)

The poverty threshold is set at 60 % of the median disposable income at individual level. It is calculated as follows: 60 % of 22,784 euros per year equals to a threshold of 13,670 euros per year or 1,139 euros per month for a single person. For households, this threshold is not simply multiplied by the number of household members. Considering that household members share costs and expenditures, a factor of 0.5 is applied to a second adult in a household in the calculation of the poverty threshold, and a factor of only 0.3 is applied to children (<14 years). The poverty threshold for a household consisting of two adults and two children is therefore obtained by multiplying the threshold of single people by a factor of 2.1 [(€13,670 *2.1)/12 = €2,392 per month]. This factor of 2.1 is calculated by assigning a weight of 1 to the head of the household, of 0.5 to the second adult of the household and of 0.3 to each child.

Households with low work intensity (LWI)

These are the households where adults (aged 18 to 59, excluding students) have worked on average less than one fifth of the time during the reference year.

Material deprivation (SMD): details of the indicator

People considered as "severely materially deprived" are confronted with at least four of the nine following situations: they cannot afford to pay rent or utility bills, to keep their home adequately warm, to face unexpected expenses, to eat meat, fish or a protein equivalent every second day, to go on a one-week holiday away from home, to have a car, a washing machine, a colour TV or a telephone.

European poverty indicator: AROPE (At Risk of Poverty or Social Exclusion)

This indicator is derived from the three indicators mentioned above (AROP, LWI, SMD). If one or more of the conditions are met, i.e. if the household in which the person lives is characterised by low income and/or low work intensity and/or severe material deprivation, that person is considered at risk of poverty and/or social exclusion (multidimensional poverty).

More definitions...



EU-SILC 2004 to 2020 was implemented under a framework regulation, mandatory for all EU Member States: REGULATION (EC) No 1177/2003 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 16 June 2003 concerning Community statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC)

From SILC 2021 onwards there is the REGULATION (EU) 2019/1700 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL. This framework regulation for integrated European Social Statistics (IESS) and the underlying implementing regulations for EU-SILC constitute the new legal framework. The development of the statistical infrastructure under IESS is supported by European grants.

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