Sharp rise in welfare benefits

The number of people receiving welfare benefits in the Netherlands increased significantly in the first quarter of this year. In the first three months of 2016 a total of 459 thousand people were on welfare - an increase of 11 thousand compared to the previous quarter and 18 thousand compared to the same time last year, Statistics Netherlands announced on Tuesday.

Statistics Netherlands attributes the increase largely to the large influx of refugees coming into the Netherlands. Though the statistics office emphasizes that refugees still only account for a small minority of the total number of welfare recipients.

Once an asylum seeker is granted a residency permit, he or she may apply for welfare. Last year the group of refugees receiving welfare increased by a net of 15 thousand people - the number of new recipients minus the number of people no longer receiving welfare benefits. Of this group about 10 thousand were born in Syria. About three quarter of Syrian refugees given a residency permit between 2013 and 2015 are on welfare.

The number of young people up to the age of 27 years on welfare benefits also increased significantly. In March there were 4 thousand more of these welfare recipients than in the same month last year. Statistics Netherlands attributes this increase to changing legislation and an increase of young Syrian asylum seekers.

The welfare benefits figures are also affected by the increase of the retirement age. At the start of this year the retirement age was increased by three months to 65 years and 6 months.