Government comes up with 28 proposals to ease pressure on welfare state – all deal with foreigners
Government officials are ready with 28 concrete solutions meant to ease the pressure on the Danish welfare state.
The proposals, which are outlined in a report obtained by Berlingske newspaper, aim their sights on one common target: foreigners living in Denmark.
The degree to which foreigners can be blamed for the stress on the welfare state caused great disagreement within the government and is part of the reason why the report remains largely shrouded in secrecy.
The report’s 28 proposals include: mandatory private health insurance for foreigners in their first four years in the country; making foreigners pay to visit the doctor in their first two years here; extending the required residency of foreigners in Denmark from 40 to 45 years before qualifying for a full state pension; a minimum stay of two years in order to qualify for housing subsidies; reduced child care benefits in the first two years; and tightened rules regarding student grants for foreigners.
This proposal suggests a gradual move away from the traditional Scandinavian tax-based welfare model towards the continental European model, in which the payment of welfare benefits are determined by the citizen’s affiliation with the job market over time.
Inger Støjberg, the employment minister, initiated work on the reform in December, saying that the country simply cannot afford a tax-based welfare system anymore.
“There’s something fundamentally wrong with being able to come to Denmark and benefit without having contributed,” she told Berlingske newspaper. “It’s important that people earn their benefits. Our current system is vulnerable because it’s too easy to benefit from the system.”
So what does this mean for foreigners in Denmark? Hard to say, as government bickering has delayed the report from being published.
The most popular and obvious objection to the proposal is that it will make it even more difficult to attract skilled workers from abroad – a view represented in government by the Conservatives. However, the Liberal integration spokesperson, MP Karsten Lauritzen, defended the proposal, saying: “I don’t think a well-educated engineer from India would come here to collect social security or housing benefits.”
The government received the report last week, but Støjberg has postponed its publication, apparently out of concern that it would not be wise to have the government parties publicly debating their conflicting views on the proposal’s details.
The government’s main ally, the Danish People’s Party (DF), is puzzled by the postponement and wants the legislation to be in place before the summer break. “If the report is ready, then it’s only fair that it should be published, so we can discuss it openly,” said DF deputy leader Peter Skaarup.
Another possible reason for the delay is that even the government officials who were appointed by the government to produce the report have their own words of caution attached to some of the 28 proposed principles.
If, for example, the government introduces user fees for doctor visits and non-emergency hospital treatment during the first two years of residency, it would lead to annual public savings of only 20 million kroner.
This, the authors of the report argue, could result in foreigners simply refusing to pay and that could leave some foreigners untreated – which could in turn create a need for a completely new administrative system, and thus negate any potential savings.
Another point is that a reduction in child care benefits for foreigners in their first two years would bring in 30 million kroner a year – but could mean that families would choose to keep the children at home, which in some cases could limit the parents from working and hinder both parents and children from fully integrating into society.
The authors are also acutely aware that the general reform could seriously harm the future recruitment of skilled foreign workers.
Gunnar Viby Mogensen, a doctor in economic and social history, told The Copenhagen Post that a great part of the legal system would reject the possibility of tightening any earn-it-first rules for public welfare.
“A decade ago, media lawyers uniformly rejected a tightening of the immigration policy, yet it was easily passed in parliament in 2002. If the legal advice this time around is of a similar quality, then it will be easy to implement tighter ‘points accumulation’ principles for foreigners.”
Mogensen also pointed out that such a scheme would affect the ability to attract well-educated workers from abroad.
“The short-term tax breaks for foreign professionals are only temporary solutions.”
One possible solution, he argued, would be significant permanent tax breaks for foreign professionals, financed in part by a gradual transition to private welfare insurance principles – such as the ones that have existed since 1990 in the form of the occupational pension scheme for the elderly.
Readers of The Copenhagen Post have also voiced their concerns. Responding to the news of the proposal on cphpost.dk last week, one reader responded: “Just how would this affect the foreign spouse and children of a Dane who have returned home from living abroad? Will a Dane essentially never be able to return home because their spouse is no longer welcome?”
Another reader wrote: “Do whatever you want; it’s your country, your laws. If you want to be the most homogenous country in the world, go ahead. We foreigners will just look elsewhere. But please don’t expect the world to wait for you. Political decisions can lift up or condemn future generations. You decide.”