Paul Schnabel: Growing concern

Paul Schnabel has been taking the nation’s temperature and it looks as if the Netherlands is beginning to feel poorly.

When all was well, the average Dutch person did not worry too much about his/her income. The credit crisis and the recession did little to change this. Until now.
A large majority of people is still happy with their financial situation but is not expecting it to improve any time soon. The country’s economy has become a matter for concern, however. At the start of 2011, 80% of people thought the Dutch economy would be able to weather the storm but barely a year later that figure has dropped to 35%. Only the first few months of 2009, when people were still reeling from the aftershocks of the credit crisis, showed a similarly low percentage.
In the space of one year the number of people who feel they have little control over their futures has shot up by more than half, to 30%. At the same time, the number of people who claim to be happy with their lives, or even extremely happy, remains as high as ever, even compared to other EU countries. Surprisingly enough, the number of happy people has increased this year but both in the Netherlands and Denmark – the happiest country of them all – the belief that society is heading in the right direction has nosedived sharply.
In Spain, most people rated developments in their society positively. But that was in 2007 and now hardly anyone does. A year ago, 60% of Spaniards feared for their jobs – and rightly so. The Dutch percentage at the time did not exceed 6% and that was pretty much on the ball too.
I wonder if it still is. Steady employment is a thing of the past and it is hitting newcomers to the labour market hard. There are no mortgages for those on short time contracts. Renting is an option but the social housing waiting lists in the Randstad are very long and it can take up to seven years or more before a suitable home becomes available.
Insecurity about the future leads to pessimism. Over two thirds of people agreed with the statement ‘For most people in the Netherlands life will get worse rather than better’ compared to half the year before. Two years ago, 43% of people thought we’d seen off the crisis, now it’s only 18%. An increasing number of people feel that the fate of the Netherlands is determined by forces beyond its control.
Natural disaster
There is still support for the euro although almost half of the population now thinks replacing the guilder with a single currency was a bad idea. Political preferences are extremely varied when it comes to the euro. Most PVV voters long for the return of the guilder back while D66 and GroenLinks supporters most definitely don’t.
The same discrepancy is echoed in people’s attitude towards the Dutch membership of the European Union. It has to be noted that interest in what happens at a European level is very limited across the board. Local and national politics are more popular but most appealing of all are natural disasters and their effects on people. We don’t know if the present recession is being regarded as a natural disaster yet. But whether it is or not, there’s precious little we can do about either.
Paul Schnabel is head of the government social policy unit SCP

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