Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Waking up from the Scandinavian dream

The number of homeless people in Denmark has increased by 23% since 2009. There are now an estimated 6,138 homeless people nationwide compared to 4,998 in 2009. The largest increase is found among those aged 25 to 29: in this case homelessness has increased 29% since just 2013. Nearly eight out of ten homeless people are men, while one fifth of all homeless are foreigners. Denmark’s poverty rates have doubled over the past decade, and inequality is on the rise: Since 2013, the wealthiest Danes have become 30 percent richer, and the poorest, 10 percent poorer. The growing gap between rich and poor is not a fluke but a matter of policy-making. Denmark’s poverty woes are still negligible compared to most of the world. The country’s Gini coefficient (the most accepted measure of inequality) is 25, still less than the EU average of 30.5 and far from the United States’ 40.8. Per capita income remains an enviable $60,000 or so, and the country’s generous benefits, from sizable student loans to socialized medicine, make it difficult to draw parallels with poverty-stricken Greece or Spain, with their dilapidated houses and soup-kitchen lines. Indeed, some argue that wealth inequality doesn’t matter so much in a state with such a strong social safety net — when the state guarantees university tuition and pensions, savings take less precedence. Nevertheless the trend is a reminder that not everyone is being caught by the Danish social security net. Indeed, homelessness has grown by a quarter since 2013, according to the Danish National Centre for Social Research, to 6,138 people. Youth homelessness is rising the fastest. The right wing recently won the elections on the promise of tax cuts, and, according to the Danish statistics office, while inequality was growing; Denmark’s economy has been recording the longest streak of growth in 10 years.”

Lars Benjaminsen, a researcher at the Danish National Centre for Social Research explained “It may be decades before most Danes experience the effects. But some experts say that equality as an afterthought is risky, because it’s not something that can be implemented retroactively, after the economy has grown. ‘The problem is that inequality is flying under the radar.
On July 1, Denmark slashed benefits to asylum seekers. Under the new rules, which came into effect in September, an asylum seeker without children receives $892 per month in benefits, almost half the $1,627 they previously received. For refugees aspiring to beome Danish citizens the bar has been raised. The language requirements will become more rigourous. The current citizenship test will be replaced by a new test that includes knowledge of Danish society, culture and history and requires a much higher pass mark. The test will consist of 40 questions, and at least 32 will need to be answered correctly in order to pass: a 80 percent pass mark. The current citizenship test consists of 32 questions, of which 22 needed to be correctly answered: a 69 percent pass mark. Applicants must also be able to document they have been self-sufficient for 4.5 out of the past 5 years, and the waiting period for those convicted of a crime will be increased by a further 50 percent. Under current rules, a criminal record results in a three to 20 year quarantine from obtaining citizenship, depending on the nature of the crime. The agreement also includes tougher demands for medical reports that can be used for dispensation grounds by applicants with psychological issues, such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

 It is not the only Scandinavian country losing its egalitarian grip. In Finland, last year, the government cut benefits to pensioners, the sick and the unemployed, prompting Finland’s Left Alliance to withdraw from the ruling coalition. In Norway, more than half the population would sacrifice some of their social welfare benefits for a stronger economy, according to the Oslo-based research foundation Fafo. 

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