Belgium - Poverty and wealth

Belgium, like many Western European nations, enjoys a high standard of living and a high per capita income. Each year the United Nations ranks the world's countries in its Human Development Report. Belgium consistently ranks among the top nations in its human development index that measures the quality of life in countries. In the 2000 report, the UN ranked Belgium number-seven—just behind Switzerland and ahead of the Netherlands. Its per capita income was $28,790. Belgium ranked 8th out of 191 countries in terms of per capita income.

There are extremes of wealth and poverty in Belgium. However, the nation's generous social welfare programs prevent abject poverty. Only 3.7 percent of the population falls into the lowest 10 percent of income levls

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Belgium
Lowest 10% 3.7
Lowest 20% 9.5
Second 20% 14.6
Third 20% 18.4
Fourth 20% 23.0
Highest 20% 34.5
Highest 10% 20.2
Survey year: 1992
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

while 20.2 percent of the households are in the top 10 percentile.

The nation's social welfare programs are extensive. There are 5 main elements to the Belgian social welfare system : family allowance, unemployment insurance, retirement, medical benefits, and a program that provides salary in the event of illness. Employers contribute the equivalent of 35 percent of a worker's pay to the social welfare system and workers contribute 13 percent of their pay. Many companies also offer supplemental retirement and medical programs. Almost all Belgians are covered by medical insurance. Payments to medical providers were $12.97 billion in 1999. Belgium ranked thirteenth among the 24 OECD nations and fifth among the 15 EU nations. Each region has special councils that provide public assistance and aid to the poor. The National Housing Society provides low-income housing for the poor and immigrants. The Society is also in charge of eliminating slums and revitalizing urban neighborhoods.

Belgium's educational system is among the best in Europe. Freedom of education is a constitutional right in Belgium. Both public and private schools exist, but the government subsidizes private schools since the legal system abolished fees in 1958. Children must attend

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All Food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Belgium 17 6 8 3 1 7 57
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Germany 14 6 7 2 10 7 53
France 22 7 9 3 8 12 40
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
a Excludes energy used for transport.
b Includes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

school between the ages of 6 and 18. The nation has 7 universities (4 that teach in French and 3 that teach in Flemish). There are also a number of specialized and technical schools.

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