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The practical approach to the project consisted of various phases. In the first phase, the focus was on the actual spending patterns of low-income households The results of this analysis were used as input by the experts charged with drawing up the baskets. The research techniques applied in order to attain our goal were a literature review, a secondary analysis of the Belgian Household Budget Survey of 2004, case studies and focus groups.

In the second phase, the experts made a start with composing the various budgets. At the fortnightly meetings of experts, which were invariably also attended by an experiential expert, the above rules of thumb were outlined and the work progress was discussed. It soon emerged that, for a number of products and services, it was not easy to determine whether or not they belonged in a standard budget. Relevant recommendations were lacking and it was not immediately clear whether they fulfilled an essential purpose with a view to household members’ participation in society. The items in question were subsequently presented to the focus groups of low-income families. The topic list used was likewise prepared during the fortnightly expert meetings.

Next, all experts listened to the recordings of the focus group meetings to determine the relevance of the topic to their own budgets and they either indicated that they had obtained enough information or they formulated additional questions. After the conclusion of the focus groups, the experts finalised their budget baskets. They described in detail how they had proceeded and provided a justification for the inclusion of the various products and services, as well as the amounts, quality and lifespan taken into account. Except for the baskets relating to healthcare, security in childhood and housing, no additional expertise was called on. In the absence of any recommendation on minimal healthcare, the expert of KHK personally drew up guidelines and subsequently presented them to Domus Medica, the professional association of Flemish GPs and GP groups. Several of its members volunteered to review the basket. Likewise, there are no existing guidelines relating to the needs of children and youngsters in order that they would enjoy security in childhood. Hence, a Delphi survey was conducted of around a dozen professional experts (from policy, practice and research). Finally, for the housing budget, we relied on the expertise of a researcher with the Research Centre for Spatial Planning and Housing. He
helped translate a number of universal criteria for minimally adequate housing into measurable Flemish indicators and subsequently calculated the monthly cost of such accommodation on the basis of data from the 2005 Housing Survey.

Once the composition of the baskets had been decided upon, the list of products and services was passed on to the marketing expert, whose job it was to attach a price tag to each of the items. She then set out to identify the cheapest products available, taking due account of the required quantity and quality specified by the experts, as well as the various forms and packaging in which the product is available and the reachability of outlets to non-car owners. Insofar as possible, she went about this task in a normative way, i.e. she took no account of the actual purchasing behaviour of the low-income households, and particularly their choice of shops. Almost all respondents from the focus groups indicated that they shopped at Aldi or Lidl. However, as far as daily, weekly or monthly purchases were concerned, the products listed in the budget standard were primarily bought at Colruyt. This choice was inspired by the broad range of products offered by this supermarket chain, as well as the prices charged, with Colruyt being sometimes over 10% cheaper than other supermarkets. An additional argument for choosing Colruyt is its transparent purchasing policy and the attention paid to good basic quality. Still, it was felt that the provenance of the products in the various baskets should not be restricted to a single supermarket chain, as this would be contrary to people’s autonomy of choice. Moreover, existing Colruyt stores are not easily reachable for all people, especially non-car owners. Therefore, the marketing expert suggested that the price of all products sold at Colruyt should be multiplied by 10%. This way, the criteria of purchasability and fairness that had been agreed upon beforehand by the experts, would be fulfilled. When the pricing of the baskets was concluded, they were combined into a general budget, which was once more submitted to the target group. This final validation involved individual interviews and questioning, in small groups, of twenty-or-so individuals living on a low income. The emphasis was not so much on the composition of the budget, as on the acceptability of the total cost price in the light of minimal societal participation.


K.H.Kempen Vlaamse overheid CSB ULG