Web of the Street

Webinar in french

Is social insecurity inevitable? How to put an end to worsening precarity and social inequality intensified by the covid-19 crisis?

Webinar topic

This webinar was run in partnership with Dynamo International – Street Workers Network and the non-profit Bruxelles LaïqueFestival des Libertés Cultural Festival, as part of the online discussion surrounding the “Freedom or security – do we have to choose? campaign.

Our societies are in perpetual crisis and the discourse is becoming even more security-based, while a large number of people live in constant insecurity and face an uncertain future. Precariousness has become a fact of life for many people, and it now cuts across different facets of life in order to create what Robert Castel called “social insecurity”. Homeless people, unemployed people facing the constant threat of exclusion, single parent families, undocumented foreign nationals, segregated young people…increasing numbers of people are experiencing precariousness without any social security cover. Those in casual employment, and “gig economy” workers, who have employment contracts but do not have the social protection offered by a standard employment contract, should not be forgotten.

We will question the political and media discourses that justify this precariousness and the changes to legislation that make out this insecurity to be a social fact. Why has the goal of eradicating structural poverty, announced by international bodies such as the UN, not been achieved, while the proportion of well-off people is rising?

Speakers – observations and key ideas expressed

Olivier de Schutter, Belgium, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Submission of two reports on extreme poverty:

Impact of the COVID-19 crisis on poverty: evaluation of the effectiveness of the social security measures taken by countries to cope with the crisis.
Outcome: countries are taking measures with some degree of effectiveness but only during the emergency phase of the crisis. These mechanisms must be continued in the long term and in ordinary circumstances.

Economic recovery – eradicate poverty while keeping to planetary boundaries
How to reactivate the economy while keeping to the requirements of the ecological transition.
Outcome: The EU is endeavouring to ensure a “greener” economic recovery, but this is not the case in the vast majority of the world’s countries.

  • The poverty alleviation model implemented by most countries is still based on that of the 30-year post-war boom: grow the economy to distribute more wealth. However, this model is founded on an unrealistic principle of boundless growth. We need to move towards an anti-poverty model based on three main levers: a system of progressive taxation, effective social policies, and an inclusive, social and solidarity-based economy.
  • Take into consideration new models of social innovation that make people in difficulty agents for change in their own lives.

Céline Nieuwenhuys, Belgium, secretary-general of the Fédération des Services Sociaux (FdSS) and an expert member of the Exit Strategy Policy Group (GEES)

  • Difficulties conveying social policy recommendations to the federal government:
    • The government responded negatively several times to the social security measures, e.g. direct support for households in difficulty.
    • Lack of financial resources for the expert role in comparison with economic and health experts.
    • The work of experts is ideologized and politicised, which hinders the effectiveness of the measures aimed at people in precarious situations.
  • Making the invisible visible: precariousness is not visible even in ordinary times and this situation worsened during lockdown. Precariousness remained well-hidden behind the walls of homes. The state and society make people feel ashamed of their situations.
  • Precariousness was already a major issue in Belgium before the crisis began. Indeed, the state’s policy was more focused on emergency rather than prevention initiatives. The coronavirus crisis has greatly worsened the situation. For instance, students have lost their student jobs, yet are not entitled to any financial support. Consequently, families are having to financially support their children, but they do not all have the resources to do so. This will further widen the gulf between young people whose families can financially support them, and those whose families cannot.

Maryse Bresson, France, sociologist specialising in precariousness and social intervention.

  • Poverty and precariousness: two complementary concepts that place the emphasis on a specific feature. Precariousness and social insecurity refer to the risk faced by an individual of becoming socially excluded and poor. Poverty refers to a major lack: a lack of income, healthcare, education etc.
  • Being in work does not mean that precariousness is a thing of the past, for instance, “the working poor” whose work does not provide sufficient income to lift the person out of poverty. Consequently, effectively alleviating poverty (or not) is a political choice.
  • Situations of poverty and precariousness foster diverse types of criminality and consequently worsen the stigma attached to those involved. A security-based and repressive response by states to this type of criminality, which is concentrated in more deprived areas, is the most common, instead of focusing proactively on prevention and alleviating precariousness.