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Reference budgets

Reference budgets for social participation

Together towards a dignified income

Reference budgets provide an answer to the question of the minimum income that a family needs to participate fully in society. In this context, social participation is "the ability of individuals to fulfil their social roles in a way that meets societal expectations and the ability to help shape those expectations". When people succeed in this, they have a sense of belonging and are able to contribute to society. This is the essence of a life worth living.

The answer to the question of how much income a family needs is different for each family. For example, a family with sick family members will need more financial resources than a family with healthy family members. The society in which a family lives also plays a role. In societies where, for example, education and public transportation are accessible and affordable, families will have fewer financial needs than in societies where the cost of education or public transportation is high.

How are reference budgets calculated?

The reference budgets for Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia are based on the "Theory of Human Needs" by Doyal & Gough (1991). This framework states that full social participation is only possible when people are healthy and have sufficient independence to act autonomously. At a minimum, people must have access to food, clothing, shelter, health and personal care, rest and recreation. In addition, children must be able to grow up safely and citizens must be able to maintain social relationships, feel safe and have sufficient mobility.

For each of these needs, reference budgets develop a basket of priced goods and services. The choice of goods and services to be included in each basket is based on (inter)national guidelines and scientific evidence. In the absence of objective criteria, experts are consulted and focus groups are organised with citizens from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Since 2023, we have been pricing the various goods and services twice a year. Every five years we update the goods and services. We do this based on new knowledge, trends and social guidelines. The revised reference budgets are repeatedly discussed in focus groups during this five-yearly update.

Collega's overleggen aan een ovale tafel in een kleurige ruimte met veel lichtinval

Reference budgets for the working field

Reference budgets are therefore useful for assessing the vulnerability of families. To make reference budgets accessible to social workers, we have developed online tools that allow social workers to calculate a reference budget tailored to individual living situations. Through training and learning networks, we share our expertise and tools and support caregivers in using them.

Boek dat dient als leidraad om de REMI-tool te implementeren in je OCMW

Reference budgets for policies

Reference budgets can also be used to monitor poverty reduction policies at the local, regional, national and European levels. For example, we have developed indicators to evaluate the effectiveness of minimum income schemes and to measure the affordability of goods and services. We also explored the possibility of developing a reference budget-based indicator to measure poverty in a population. The special feature of these indicators is that they are based on the needs of families and the necessary costs faced by households in different life situations.

foto van medewerker die vorming geeft

How much do the reference budgets amount to?

Here we show the reference budgets for some types of families. We make a distinction between families in the social housing market and families in the private market. The illustration shows the reference budgets for households with one working adult or with one or two pensioners. For these types of households, we assume that the family members are in good health, have the necessary skills to manage their budget well, live in good quality housing and do not own a car. The  youngest child is a toddler, the oldest or only child is between 6 and 12 years old.

referentiebudgetten voor verschillende typegezinnen

Read more about reference budgets

View our publications on reference budgets

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Budget calculator

How much income does your family need? Calculate your own reference budget with our budget calculator.

Calculate your reference budget