Monday 18 October 2021

‘The Dutch cabinet doesn’t concentrate on things that matter to voters’

Voting form with red pencil filling in a black circleThe cabinet should prioritise issues that matter to voters, such as the rampant unemployment among the over-45s, write economists Willem Vermeend and Rick van der Ploeg.

In the past few years, people’s confidence in politics has plummeted to an all-time low, not only because promises haven’t been kept, but also because the country had no less than five cabinets in the space of ten years, and, currently, 16 parliamentary parties. In addition, citizens are wondering when politicians are going to tackle the very real problems of this country instead of getting hot and bothered about other matters.

What to do about keeping health care affordable, for example, or tackling unemployment. Safety, immigration, pensions and spending power are high on the list too. This week the coalition managed to widen the gap between it and the voters even more by embarking on a feverish marathon debate about the accommodation of failed asylum seekers.

Bed, bath, bread

Labour supports the so-called ‘bed, bath and bread’ arrangement which some local councils have introduced to prevent illegal immigrants, who won’t be repatriated anyway, from ending up on the streets and becoming a public nuisance.

Although VVD aldermen and mayors of these local councils condone the measure for the sake of their local community, their fellow liberals in The Hague fear this provision will tempt more people to cross the border illegally, particularly if the measure becomes a right. Experience has taught us this is very likely.

Until recently, The Hague condoned the measure because it is being supported by judicial rulings. It ended up on the political agenda again because the Council of Europe recently said it won’t pronounce on whether or not the Netherlands should provide basic accommodation for failed asylum seekers.

Underlying problem

Considering the fact that the cabinet is split over the matter it would have been wiser to postpone discussion until the Dutch court comes up with its – binding – ruling, which is expected as early as mid-May.

Not that this will solve the underlying problem. For the last ten years the Dutch asylum policy has failed on all fronts. Without apportioning blame, it is clear that the social democrats, supported by a small band of dedicated supporters, are more committed to this cause than the liberals.

But some in the Labour party and its dwindling group of voters are wondering why it is that the party is known primarily for its stance of issues like immigration, integration and asylum policy. While undeniably important, these are not the kind of issues that will bring back disillusioned voters. They used to vote for a recognisable Labour party, the party of jobs, good social security and a fair division of wealth.


And it is these issues which will be gaining in importance in the years ahead, so much is clear from the recent forecasts on employment, income inequality and the affordability of health care. These are the issues which should be concerning the coalition. Both Labour and the VVD have enough room to manoeuvre on solutions without annoying people by creating a ruckus.

Employment should be the central issue. In spite of some green shoots appearing and increased growth, it doesn’t look as if Mark Rutte’s second cabinet will be able to reduce unemployment (around 7%) substantially.


Unemployment is down slightly, but at the same time another drama is unfolding. Long-term unemployment among those aged 45 and over is increasing alarmingly and this trend is set to continue. In 2014, the minimum time expected for almost two in three older unemployed to find a job was one year. Of the long-term unemployment benefits claimants 80% are over 45.

In the last few years, Rutte 2 tried to increase the chances for the older unemployed through training, premium breaks for employers and other subsidies. It is high time the cabinet acknowledged this isn’t enough and that unemployment among this age group is rising. That is why we propose a measure which is as simple as it is effective.


Employers who take on an unemployed man or woman of 45 or older will be exempt from paying contributions for a year and will only pay half over the second year. Then the normal procedures will be resumed. Workers will have had enough time to show their worth to the company without the measure, or else will have a better chance of finding a job elsewhere.

In addition, the employee insurance agency UWV should work with to set up a nationwide ICT training programme for unemployed people over 45. A good example is the training course which is about to kick off in Maastricht. Those who finish the course successfully will significantly increase their chances on the labour market.

Willem Vermeend is a former State Secretary of Finance and Minister of Social Affairs in the Dutch government and currently entrepreneur and professor at the University of Maastricht.
Rick van der Ploeg is a former State Secretary for Eduction, Culture and Science in the Dutch government and professor of economics at the University of Oxford.
This article appeared earlier in the Financial Telegraaf.

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