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Denmark: Poverty And Inequality Are On The Rise, A Few Simple Questions

By Farooque Chowdhury

05 October, 2015

Denmark, one of the advanced capitalist countries, is facing increased poverty and inequality. At the same time, the country is also facing homeless problem. “The number of homeless people in Denmark has increased by 23% since 2009”, said West, an online newspaper produced from Italy and Belgium.

The West report by its editorial staff said:

“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.”
(“Number of homeless people in Denmark on the rise”, September 16, 2015)

Citing OECD another recent report by Laura Secorun Palet on OZY said:

“Denmark is losing its egalitarian luster. 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 report headlined “The End of the Scandinavian Dream?” describes the following picture:

“The tableau of want has become common enough in vast swaths of the post-recession West: An unwashed teenager lies on the steps of a church, sleeping. A woman nearby beseeches passersby for a few coins. Across the street, a clutch of homeless men are yelling at one another, looking combustible enough that well-to-do families quicken their pace as they walk by.

“It just wasn’t supposed to happen here in Denmark”.

It said:

“In fact, with GDP growth stagnant or worse in recent years, there’s a growing acceptance among Danes of inequality as a necessary evil, says Kristian Weise, whose think tank, Cevea, recently published an exhaustive study on national inequality. The growing gap between rich and poor is not a fluke, he says, but ‘a matter of policy-making.’”

A broader picture of the region is also provided by the report as it said:

“Denmark’s cutting of social spending could lead other countries to follow suit; its preternatural ability to combine prosperity with a strong welfare state had made it an exemplar. But it’s not the only Scandinavian country losing its egalitarian grip. Take Nordic neighbor 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.”

Going back to Denmark it said:

“To be sure, 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.”

The report said:

“Still, inequality growth has led to some jarring juxtapositions, the kind that cut to the core of the so-called Scandinavian miracle. Copenhagen has no ghettos, just little pockets of destitution. A hundred meters down the street from the homeless shelter sits a trendy cafe where oblivious tourists sip oversize and overpriced cappuccinos. It’s 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 last government cut incentives for job searching, leaving some trapped between a stagnant job market and escalating real-estate prices.”
The question of equality, entitlement and private capital comes up in the report as it quotes:

“‘Equality is important, but entitlements should not take away the private initiative and strain the public budgets,’ says a spokesperson for the Conservative party. So far the focus on growth over parity seems to be paying off. 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.”

The report concludes with the following paragraph:

“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,’ says Lars Benjaminsen, a researcher at the Danish National Centre of Social Research, ‘and when it surfaces, it will be too late.’”

The homeless scenario in Denmark is mentioned by others also. An earlier report in The Copenhagen Post, Online Post by Christian W said:
“A new report from the national welfare research centre SFi has revealed an increase in the number of homeless people in Denmark.

“The report showed there are 6,138 homeless people in Denmark at the moment, which is 318 more than two years ago.”

The “More homeless people in Denmark” headlined report said:

“‘We see an increase in the number of homeless and that irks me,’ said the social and internal affairs minister, Karen Ellemann, according to DR Nyheder.

“‘The public efforts simply can’t keep up with the demand. We will have to get better at spreading the evidence-based knowledge we have.’”

The September 15, 2015 datelined report cited the SFi report:

“The report documented that it was becoming particularly difficult for the socially vulnerable to find affordable housing in the cities.
And many of the new homeless are younger people who have been unable to pay their rent because they’ve lost their rights to receive the ‘kontanthjælp’ benefit.

“The increasing number of homeless in Denmark has occurred despite great public and political awareness. From 2009-2013, eight municipalities received 500 million kroner from the state to help house them.”

A Euro News report headlined “Denmark: Tackling homelessness the Odense way” mentioned another aspect of the problem as it said:

“Denmark is battling homelessness.

“Between 2009 and 2013, the northern European country saw a 16 percent rise in the number of people lacking permanent housing.

“But one Danish town has tackled the problem head on. In the same four-year period, Odense has managed to reduce the number of homeless people by 47 percent.”

The report cited the initiative in the Odense town:

“The municipality organised a conference for social workers from eight other European countries to explain the secret of its success.
“Tom RØnning, a housing consultant in the town, outlined some key areas to tackle.

“‘Logically, the main thing is to get a cheap and good home, and also to make sure we separate drug abusers,’ he said.

“‘We need to make sure they’re spread out, which is what has been successful here in Odense, in contrast to many other places.’

“Jimmy Schramm benefitted from the scheme after spending two years in prison. He says the assistance he’s received should help him to wean himself off drugs.

“‘I have been a drug abuser for 19 years, so now is the moment to stop, so I don’t destroy my life any further,’ he said.

“‘I’m only 34 years old, so I have plenty of time left. At least, I hope so.’”

The developments in Denmark create a number of questions and aspects:

[1] Why does homeless problem grow in an advanced capitalist country rich with resources?

[2] Why does the country fail to solve the problem?

[3] The problem can be reduced within the existing structure as a town has shown. Despite the fact, the problem persists for years, and is increasing. What’s the cause?

[4] The “puzzle” turns more complex if one notices the number. With so much resources, problem of so little number of people persists. What’s the cause? With so little [virtually no] control over resources, so little [virtually no] control over the entire world system that actually determines allocation of /distribution pattern of resources, how do the masters of the world system expect that the peripheral countries will solve their problem of a huge number of homeless?

[5] Is this a problem of a single or a number of countries, or is a problem related to the capitalist system?

Other fundamental questions are there also that require answers/explanations. The homeless problem always falls on the poor or on the segment of the society, which is underprivileged. What’s the cause of this biasness of the problem? How the rich escape the problem? Why Denmark fails to arrange cheap and good homes for a small number of persons while it finances bigger projects for poverty alleviation, etc. in other countries? Is it only a Denmark-problem? Is there really a lack of knowhow about the origin of the problem? Is the problem related to the basic question of distribution of resources? The small number of homeless in the rich country acts as an element of lesson to understand the system that dominates the country, the continent Europe, and the world.

Farooque Chowdhury, a free lancer, writes from Dhaka.



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