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Home help is booming in Flanders

09:02 24/07/2019

Getting help with household chores, such as cleaning and ironing, is increasingly popular in Flanders, according to figures released by the Department of Work and Social Economy. In 2018, residents bought 86.8 million of the service cheques used to pay for domestic help, 2.6 million more than the year before.

Dienstencheques (titres services) were launched in 2004 as an easy way for people to get help with their household chores and so achieve a better work-life balance. The system was also intended to boost low-skilled employment and reduce informal domestic work outside the tax and social security system.

Each cheque currently costs €9 and pays for an hour of work. The cheques are tax-deductible, up to a certain number, bringing the cost to €6.30 in Flanders, and slightly more in other regions. Meanwhile the Flemish government also subsidises the value of the cheque, so that the person doing the work receives around €23 per hour.

The latest report on the use of service cheques in Flanders finds that the largest group of users - around 40% - are people in their 30s and 40s. This is consistent with the idea that home help is most needed during the busy phases of life, when work and childcare overlap. However, there is another substantial group, 30% of users, who are retired and either living alone or without children.

The number of people carrying out the work is also rising, rising from 95,000 in 2015 to 102,195 in 2017, the latest year for which figures are available. Women make up 98% of the home help workforce, most of them in their 30s or 40s. But the workforce is ageing rapidly, with 30% now in their 50s.

They work an average of 2.2 hours per week for each “employer”, a figure that has been falling slightly over the years. However, the amount of work done per household may be higher if two or more people buy the cheques in order to spread the tax benefits.

Some 93% of home helps work part-time, and few report that it is their family’s only income. Each month, 46% work for one to five customers and 41% for six to 10 customers, indicating that the job is not a simple matter of vacuuming and dusting.

“Working for many different customers, with different expectations, in ever-changing household settings and sometimes with significant travel between workplaces, requires great adaptability,” the report says.

It also notes that the system provides “substantial job opportunities” for employees with a migrant background. In 2017, 73% of home helps had Belgian nationality, but only 57% were of Belgian origin. For those with a migrant background, 36% come from Eastern Europe and 29% from other EU countries.

Photo: Getty Images

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)