The 50 most important research questions for the Netherlands
How to prevent new forms of social inequality
“My research is about food banks in the Netherlands. So, it is about poverty, about social inequality. The latest poverty report by The Netherlands Institute for Social Research (CPB) was published this week. Its main conclusion is that poverty will become more widespread in the Netherlands in 2011 and 2012. Three Limburg cities – Vaals, Heerlen and Kerkrade – are in the top ten poorest municipalities”, says René Gabriëls, a philosopher appointed at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Food banks are a “disgrace”, argues a passionate Gabriëls. “It is obviously not a solution to the problem. At the same time, it is good that they exist, because the demand for food aid is great. Greater than the supply, so there are people on waiting lists. ”
How can we fight poverty and prevent new forms of social inequality? The first thing that needs to be addressed is the lack of ideas in politics, Gabriëls reckons. “Politicians do not have a clear vision, they have no idea how to tackle this problem.” To get a clear idea, they will first have to take the theme of poverty seriously. “I may exaggerate a little, but until 2008, when the financial crisis broke out, the main problem according to the politicians was the cultural differences between native Dutch people and immigrants. If I put on my cultural glasses and look at the Maastricht district of Witte Vrouwenveld, I can see the huge differences between Henk and Ingrid and Achmed and Aisha. The chiming of the bells of the Catholic Church on Sunday irritates the Islamic couple; the catholic couple wonder why their neighbours don’t do something about their garden. Those differences are a serious problem; we have to do something about it. But if I put on my socioeconomic glasses, then Henk and Ingrid have a lot in common with their neighbours, a lot more than with Jan-Joris and Annabel from the Campagne district.”
If the increasing poverty becomes a real theme, then it is important that it is really about poverty, says Gabriëls. “It is about the issue of the distribution of wealth. We have to be careful not to focus only on the poor. Putting them at the centre of the debate, means to individualise the problem. Of course it is possible to improve the situation for individual people, but that should not cloud the focus on the issue of the distribution of wealth. That is what it is primarily about. And that means that you have to discuss capitalism. And neoliberalism. That is what got us in trouble, and now neoliberal recipes are being used to help us out again. That is not going to work. We need new theories and that is also a task for scientists. I feel that research should help eliminate situations in which people are oppressed and despised. Unfortunately the greater part of research helps maintain the status quo.”
The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has listed the 50 most important research questions for the Netherlands. The 50th is the result of a competition, which was won by two UM researchers.