Social security finances
One of the government’s main functions is to protect the population against a number of social risks. Hence, replacement incomes are provided in the event of unemployment, old age or occupational disability. Income supplements are granted to compensate in part for the financial burden associated with illness or with bringing up children. These social benefits are an important facet of the redistribution of income effected by the government. In Belgium, social protection is provided mainly by the social security sub-sector, which is the largest component of the general government sector. The level of government expenditure on social protection in Belgium is, expressed as a percentage of GDP, above the European Union average. This is due mainly to relatively higher expenditure on pensions and unemployment. The Belgian social security sector expanded strongly in the 1970s. In the ensuing period, total social security receipts and expenditure remained relatively stable on average; expressed as percentages of GDP, they stood in 2000 at roughly the same level as in 1980. During this period, however, there was a “stop and go” policy on expenditure and receipts : expansion periods were followed by periods in which a more restrictive policy was pursued. In recent years, social security has again been expanding, although only to a more limited extent. Over the years, the structure of social security spending has changed significantly : due to the strong rise in health care expenditure, this spending item has now become the most important component, just ahead of pensions. Since receipts and expenditure have hitherto moved very much in parallel, the financial balance of social security has always hovered around equilibrium. At present, the social security sector is not only free of any financial liabilities, it actually has substantial financial assets. Population ageing will clearly exert strong upward pressure on future expenditure on pensions and health care. This increase can be only partly offset by the predicted decline in unemployment expenditure and family allowances. Therefore, social security will have to face a major financial challenge in the (near) future.
Volume (Year): (2005)
Issue (Month): iii (September)
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