Most Dutch satisfied with their lives; Some 400,000 struggling

Police officers on a crowded street
Police officers on a crowded streetPhoto: Politie

A decade after the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s hit the Netherlands, most Dutch have recovered and are satisfied with their lives. But that does not apply to a group of around 400 thousand people who are still struggling, social and cultural planning office SCP said in its report The social state of the Netherlands. The SCP looked at the state of the Netherlands in the period 2008 to 2018, NOS reports.

Because the Rutte III government's motto is "everyone in the Netherlands must notice that things are going better", the SCP investigated whether this is the case by looking at various themes that every Dutch person deals with.

A lot happened in the Netherlands between 2008 and 2018. There was a credit crisis, a debt crisis, and a refugee crisis. The government also made a number of major system changes, some of which impacted social security. Instead of income protection, the government focused on reintegration. Municipalities had to ask people on welfare to give something in return. The decentralization of health care, work participation, and youth care also affected many people.

The Netherlands hit the low point of the economic crisis in 2013. At that point, purchasing power had fallen for four consecutive years and the poverty rate reached its highest point of the century. The Dutch economy then started a recovery and between 2013 and 2017, purchasing power increased by 8 percent. At the same time, income inequality increased slightly, according to the SCP. And since this year, the Dutch population has become uncertain about the financial future. The SCP calls this remarkable, as the economy is still growing. The planning office thinks the uncertainty has to do with the Brexit and global economy. But rising costs due to the climate policy and recent low VAT rate increase, and uncertainty about wages and pensions also play a role. 

The Dutch population continued to age in the past decade. The proportion of over-65-year-olds increased from 22 percent to 29 percent of the population. The proportion of over-75-year-olds who live in a nursing home or other institution decreased to 7.8 percent. And the number of young people who live with their parents for longer increased to 7.6 percent. The Dutch population is still growing, but only thanks to migration.

When it comes to education, women have caught up with the education level of men since 2016 and that trend is only increasing. The education level of Dutch people with a migration background is also on the rise, but they have not yet caught up. The education level of Dutch-Moroccans and Dutch-Turks in particular is still lagging behind. The decrease in the proportion of low-educated people in these two population groups seems to be stagnating, but the number of highly educated people in these groups is increasing.

The Dutch labor market grew increasingly flexible over the past 10 years. After the crisis, the number of self-employed people without employees skyrocketed, but that growth has since flattened out again. The number of employees is now increasing. But the number off people working on flexible contracts is also on the rise. According to the SCP, the future employee will need social and empathetic skills. Simple and routine work will disappear due to robotization among other things. But not everyone will be able to handle this shift in the labor market, the SCP warns. This may lead to a growing group of citizens who cannot keep up, resulting in higher unemployment and lower wages for this group.

The SCP is much more negative about the state of the Dutch healthcare system than it was in its previous edition of The social state of the Netherlands. In the period between 1990 and 2015, the Dutch population made great health gains, with life expectancy increasing and more people growing old healthier. But that has now come to an end, according to the SCP. The growth in life expectancy has slowed down, with even a decrease noted between 2014 and 2015. 

The fall in crime in the Netherlands, observed since the turn of the century, continues. Over the past five years, all types of crime decreased, except for cybercrime. The SCP looked into whether the falling crime rates may be due to people reporting crimes less, but found no indication of this. Despite the falling crime rates, a majority of Dutch still think that crime is a major problem and is on the rise. But this group has shrunk considerably in recent years, according to the SCP.