The place of freedom, self-determination, and autonomy in supporting people in precarious situations 

For Christine Mahy, the freedom and autonomy of people living in precarious conditions are too often considered from the point of view of the social players. However, they do not necessarily follow the same logic. To illustrate her point, she uses a testimonial from the documentary "The Price of Bread": Guy, a person living in precarious conditions, explains that on days when he receives good news, he finds the strength to open his mail or go to the CPAS. The social worker, on the other hand, thinks you should go to him as soon as you get bad news. So their thinking is very different.

That's why the General Secretary of the RWLP advocates giving people in very precarious situations the time to report what they are experiencing. Unfortunately, they often can't tell their stories in the time available to them. It's a very tough world out there for both the people providing support and the people being supported, because everything is framed. You have to be cost-effective, efficient and conform to intervention plans. There are too few projects where professionals are available to take this time. 

Education for disadvantaged groups

There is a tendency to think that we need to "civilise" disadvantaged groups, educating them about good consumer behaviour, eating habits and energy saving.

For Christine Mahy, whenever society restricts access to fundamental rights, it shifts the blame onto the people who suffer the consequences and proposes educating them.

Précarité - Soirée lancement

Before organising food education activities for the hungry, society should guarantee the right to food for all! Because she feels guilty about having to move from the right to food aid, she creates palliative layers: cooking classes, meals eaten together, social grocery shops where beneficiaries can choose their products, etc. "All of this acknowledges the fact that the right to food is a right for everyone.

"All this shows that the right to food is not guaranteed", says Christine Mahy. That's why it's essential, when proposing educational responses on the ground, to ask the right questions about the aims and benefits of these schemes for the people concerned.

Access to rights

The right to housing is an absolute necessity. Whatever the degree of vulnerability, the first lever for alleviating it is the right to housing. Today, even temporary solutions are no longer enough. Everywhere, there is a shortage of places in emergency accommodation, night shelters and so on. It is therefore essential to guarantee lasting accommodation for people in serious difficulty, rather than transit solutions.

The public authorities claim that temporary solutions enable people to get out of their situation and get back on their feet. We need to get away from this logic, because what these people need is stability. "We have to refuse to be an agent of the temporary and demand to be a player in long-term support", insists Christine Mahy. The question of "how" is eminently political.

Abolishing the cohabitant status

The RWLP secretary invited the audience to sign the petition available on the Stop cohabiting status website. Abolishing this status would encourage solidarity without making people poorer. It would also make it possible to find solutions to various societal issues such as housing and keeping elderly or disabled people at home. We need to stop condemning solidarity and instead encourage and strengthen it.

"For 40 years, the State has been making savings on people on the lowest incomes by maintaining this status of cohabitant. The cost of abolishing it is estimated at between 1.5 and 2 billion euros. That's a considerable sum, but the benefits in return will also be enormous".

To back up her point, Christine Mahy gives an example: if someone can leave an institution because they can live with a relative, it costs the community less. She adds: "At some point, if we want to lift people out of poverty, we have to give ourselves the means to do so". Today, 100% of cohabitants lose out. So while a few may benefit from the abolition of this status and reap the financial rewards, this will remain marginal.

Meritocracy, a lever for societal violence

Meritocracy consists in believing that everyone does everything for themselves. But this is impossible. Everyone evolves thanks to their family, their close circle of friends, their teachers and so on. It's completely wrong to say that everyone makes their own way.

The concept of meritocracy is often used when talking about precariousness. It is in fact a lever for individualism and societal violence against vulnerable people, who are seen as defective, have no say in the matter and have to accept the conditions imposed on them. 

This talk of meritocracy has contaminated society. However, when you are a political authority, it is essential not to think in terms of your own references. And when you work in social action, you mustn't add hardship to hardship. All too often, people are asked to meet certain requirements in order to obtain and retain assistance. This is a form of insidious meritocracy. Who is really in a position to assert and demonstrate that they "alone are capable of their own evolution"?

Inter-High Schools et University certificate in support for the very precarious

In the media, the issues of extreme poverty and precariousness are regularly raised. What is less talked about, however, are the difficulties encountered by the professionals responsible for supporting people living in poverty. Increasingly, they have to deal with situations for which they have not been adequately prepared or trained. To meet this need, Hénallux, in partnership with UCL, UNamur and HEPN, has set up a certificate in support for the very poor.

  • WHAT ? 10 days' training (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) 
  • WHEN? From 6 October 2023 
  • WHO? Professionals in the health, education and social action sectors working with people in very precarious situations.
  • WHERE? In Namur or Mariembourg 
  • HOW MUCH? €600 € for the full course or €200 for the 1st 3-day module.

Certificate in support for people in very precarious situations