Taking the floor

Rudi Roose reports from Ghent on a movement that draws poor
families into a structured dialogue with social services about
their experiences of fighting poverty.

A wide consultation process – known locally as “the method of the
dialogue” – has its origins in Belgian associations “where the poor
take the floor”. They demand people on low incomes are allowed to
add their experiences and insights to the fight against

The poor are experts on surviving and fighting poverty. And yet
many people in society seem to believe that less well off people
lack insight into their situation and don’t have the strength
necessary to change it. For that reason the poor are denied

But the specific experiences, knowledge and skills of the poor can
make a fundamental contribution to the fight against poverty, here
in Belgium as elsewhere. People on low incomes can improve the
efficiency of measures and their participation is an important step
in the escape from poverty. By listening to them in a social
debate, by asking them to take responsibility in analysing their
situation and in the search for solutions, their exclusion is
partly being undone and their right to citizenship

Based in Ghent (Gent), the Movement of People with Low Income and
Children, one of the associations “where the poor take the floor”,
tries to reach as many people on low incomes as possible. It
recognises that:

  • It is a priority to continuously reach the most destitute
    people and to consult them.
  • As experts in poverty, people on low incomes can explain what
    they are going through and share important knowledge on how to
    fight poverty.
  • By joining forces the poor begin a process of change with gains
    in terms of independence, self-confidence and the visibility of
    their dignity.
  • The dialogue with better off people leads to a common
    perspective on how to fight poverty. This dialogue leads to
    structural changes, more justice and freedom for all.

People on low incomes can communicate the essence of poverty
because they have lived through it. To get to know these people and
to visit them regularly is necessary and an important way of
continuously involving them in the project.

The poor are being contacted door to door by local services or by
the poor families who already know the movement and they are asked
to take part in the dialogue.

Respect for their privacy is a priority. During monthly house
visits, topics such as debts and housing problems are discussed and
their views recorded anonymously. Some families also attend
meetings where the same topics are discussed. In Ostend, nearly 100
families have participated in the dialogue on “placement of
children” and “debts” over a period of three years.

Out of this a compilation of the testimonials and proposals made by
the families is being prepared. This compilation is being discussed
in several meetings with services and authorities who want to
strive together with people on low incomes to find new ways of
improving the situation.

 For more details on “the method of the dialogue” write to Movement
of People with Low Income and Children, House of Human Rights,
Nieuwebosstraat 3, 9000 Ghent, Belgium.

Rudi Roose is an ex-social worker in youth care and now
teaches at the University of Ghent.


  • Belgium, which is legally bi-lingual French and Flemish, covers
    30,510 sq km (about one-eighth the size of the UK) and has a
    population of 10.3 million. About 17.5 per cent of the population
    are aged between 0-14.
  • Ethnic groups: Fleming (58 per cent), Walloon (31 per cent),
    mixed or other (11 per cent).
  • Ghent (Gent) is in Flanders, one of three regions in Belgium
    (along with Wallonia and Brussels), and is the capital of East
    Flanders, one of 10 Belgian provinces. The population of Flanders
    is 5.9 million – about 58 per cent of the total population. The
    population of Ghent is 224,800 of which 7.3 per cent are

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