Monday, October 28, 2013

36-Year-Old Dane on Welfare Since She Was 16: the "Danish model of government is close to a religion"

It began as a stunt intended to prove that hardship and poverty still existed in this small, wealthy country, but it backfired badly
writes Suzanne Daley in a New York Times article which states outright that the "Danish model of government is close to a religion here".
Visit a single mother of two on welfare, a liberal member of Parliament goaded a skeptical political opponent, see for yourself how hard it is.  

It turned out, however, that life on welfare was not so hard. The 36-year-old single mother, given the pseudonym “Carina” in the news media, had more money to spend than many of the country’s full-time workers. All told, she was getting about $2,700 a month, and she had been on welfare since she was 16.

 … Denmark has among the highest marginal income-tax rates in the world, with the top bracket of 56.5 percent kicking in on incomes of more than about $80,000. But in exchange, the Danes get a cradle-to-grave safety net that includes free health care, a free university education and hefty payouts to even the richest citizens. 

Parents in all income brackets, for instance, get quarterly checks from the government to help defray child-care costs. The elderly get free maid service if they need it, even if they are wealthy.

 … “In the past, people never asked for help unless they needed it,” said Karen Haekkerup, the minister of social affairs and integration, who has been outspoken on the subject. “My grandmother was offered a pension and she was offended. She did not need it.

“But now people do not have that mentality. They think of these benefits as their rights. The rights have just expanded and expanded. And it has brought us a good quality of life. But now we need to go back to the rights and the duties. We all have to contribute.” 

 … Joachim B. Olsen, the skeptical politician from the Liberal Alliance party who visited Carina 16 months ago in her pleasant Copenhagen apartment, is particularly alarmed. He says Sweden, which is already considered generous, has far fewer citizens living on government benefits. If Denmark followed Sweden’s example, it would have about 250,000 fewer people living on benefits of various sorts. 

“The welfare state here has spiraled out of control,” Mr. Olsen said. “It has done a lot of good, but we have been unwilling to talk about the negative side. For a very long time it has been taboo to talk about the Carinas.” 

 … It remains possible that the cost-cutting push will hurt the left-wing coalition that leads the government. By and large, though, the changes have passed easily in Parliament and been happily endorsed by conservatives like Mr. Olsen, who does his best to keep his meeting with Carina in the headlines. 

Carina was not the only welfare recipient to fuel the sense that Denmark’s system has somehow gotten out of kilter. Robert Nielsen, 45, made headlines last September when he was interviewed on television, admitting that he had basically been on welfare since 2001. 

Mr. Nielsen said he was able-bodied but had no intention of taking a demeaning job, like working at a fast-food restaurant. He made do quite well on welfare, he said. He even owns his own co-op apartment. 

Unlike Carina, who will no longer give interviews, Mr. Nielsen, called “Lazy Robert” by the news media, seems to be enjoying the attention. He says that he is greeted warmly on the street all the time. “Luckily, I am born and live in Denmark, where the government is willing to support my life,” he said.
Update: Worse Than Albania — Waiting in Sweden's national health care queues can take over a year