Tilburg Alderman Esmah Lahlah, Source: Dolph Cantrijn /

A Tilburg alderman to live on social benefits for one month

A Tilburg alderman to live on social benefits for one month

Esmah Lahlah, in charge with social security and labour participation, will be exploring where the system goes wrong

The Municipality of Tilburg, in the Netherlands, reported last Thursday that Alderman Esmah Lahlah is going to live on social assistance benefits for a month. The Alderman, responsible for social security and labour participation, wants to experience what it means to live on a low income and what it entails.

Throughout the experiment, she will be keeping track of all the negative experiences she faces and will be sharing them on a vlog and on social media.

Learning how the rules work in practice

As the city councillor responsible for the implementation of the Participation Act (the document that guarantees a minimum income for everyone who is living legally in the Netherlands), Esmah Lahlah is well aware of the political efforts that are being invested in the field. However, now she wants to bridge the gap between the residents on benefits and the government organizations that are trying to help them.

Ultimately, the experiment should also provide insights and set the scene for a larger discussion with the central government about the Participation Act and the regulations that residents have to deal with, such as allowances, benefits and health insurance.

I am doing this experiment first and foremost to be able to make things even better for our residents,”, said councillor Lahlah, as quoted on the municipal website. “I want to experience personally what it means to live on welfare. What does it mean to live on a low income? Will you make ends meet, what choices do you have to make and how do you make them? … And what does it mean to have to go to the Food Bank?”.

Lahlah promises to be fully committed to the experiment and to carry it out as close to residents on welfare as possible. She will be joined by her family, so her two adolescents are also likely to see their allowances squeezed.

Lahlah was critical to the existing legislation in the field of social benefits: “The results of various studies do not lie. The current Participation Act is not working properly. Not as a safety net, but also not as a springboard to advance in our society with work or another way of participating. And certainly not for everyone”. The municipal councillor, therefore, hopes that by the end of the month, she will know better what exactly does not work and how it can be fixed.

During the experiment, the Alderman, who holds a PhD and is an Assistant Professor at Tilburg Law School, will be keeping track of her experiences and making short vlogs and blogs, to share what she goes through.

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