Risk of poverty or social exclusion

Poverty risks in Belgium in 2020

Poverty risks in Belgium in 2020

Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, publishes today the poverty figures for 2020 based on the survey on income and living conditions (EU-SILC). The main findings for the whole population are the following:

  • In Belgium, 14.1% of the population was considered at risk of monetary poverty (AROP) in 2020. These are people living in a household with a total disposable income below the poverty line, which amounts to 1,284 euros per month for a single person. For the calculation, we used the income of 2019, which were not influenced by the COVID crisis.
  • 11.9% of the population were living in a household with low work intensity (LWI).
  • 3.9% of the Belgian population was facing severe material deprivation (SMD) in 2020.
  • The 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 used in the Europe 2020 strategy. In 2020, this concerned 18.9% of the population.

Risks of poverty in the Belgian regions and provinces

These national figures mask large regional differences. For each key indicator, the situation is the most precarious in the Brussels-Capital Region, and the least precarious in the Flemish Region. The Walloon Region is in between, but still registers higher poverty rates than the national rate. There are also clear differences at provincial level. The Flemish provinces do not differ much from each other, with the exception of Antwerp where higher levels are recorded. In Wallonia, the differences are more pronounced: Hainaut has the highest poverty rate, Walloon Brabant the lowest.

Belgium 14.1% 11.9% 3.9% 18.9%
Brussels-Capital Region 27.8% 20.9% 8.8% 34.3%
Flemish Region 9.3% 7.6% 1.5% 13.0%
Walloon Region 18.2% 16.4% 6.8% 24.6%
Brussels-Capital Region 27.8% 20.9% 8.8% 33.3%
Antwerp 12.2% 9.6% 2.2% 16.4%
Limburg 9.4% 8.9% 1.0% 13.5%
East Flanders 8.3% 6.3% 1.8% 11.7%
Flemish Brabant 7.3% 5.6% 1.2% 10.5%
West Flanders 8.2% 6.9% 0.5% 11.2%
Walloon Brabant 11.3% 10.1% 5.1% 17.3%
Hainaut 20.7% 21.3% 10.4% 29.0%
Liège 18.9% 15.3% 5.5% 24.3%
Luxembourg 17.6% 10.4% 4.1% 21.6%
Namur 15.8% 13.1% 2.9% 21.1%

Not only are there geographical differences, but subgroups of the population also differ considerably in terms of the risk of poverty they face. Monetary poverty most often affects people living in densely populated areas (21.3%), low-skilled people (26.8%), unemployed people (50%), tenants (31%) and single parent households (29.3%). The least vulnerable are Belgians living in medium populated areas (10.5%), high-skilled (5.9%), working (4.2%) or owner of their dwelling (7.7%). People living in a household consisting of two adults under 65 are also at a lower risk (5.7%).

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

If we look at the results in absolute numbers, we see that 2,152,000 Belgians were at risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2020. More than half of them (1,408,000) were at risk according to only one of the three sub-indicators (AROP, SMD, LWI), while 174,000 Belgians (1.5% of the population) combined the three: they were suffering from severe material deprivation AND were living in a low work intensity household AND were at risk of monetary poverty.

Problematic housing situation

In addition, the SILC survey shows that 7.8% of Belgians live in a household where more than 40 % of disposable income is spent on housing costs such as rent or interest on the loan and energy costs. Once again, this national figure hides large regional disparities, with Brussels (15.3%) and Flanders (5.7%) as the extremes, and Wallonia in between (9%). Moreover, 5.7% of Belgians live in a dwelling that does not have enough space for the number of people living there. In Wallonia (3.3%) and Flanders (2.9%), however, the figures are clearly better than in Brussels (28.1%).


The COVID pandemic emerged in Belgium during the fieldwork for SILC 2020. The measures taken had a significant impact on the data collection. Therefore, it is difficult to compare the results of SILC 2020 with those of SILC 2019.


In order to meet European requirements, the SILC survey was thoroughly reformed in 2019. This reform makes it possible to calculate the results more accurately. As a result of these changes, the results from 2019 onwards are not comparable with those of previous years.

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= ± 6000 households).



Timing publication

Not specified (due to a major reform of the survey).



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).

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