A high number of immigrant women from non-Western countries are practically permanently receiving cash welfare benefits.
Some 24,000 people have received cash welfare benefits (kontanthjælp) for more than ten years throughout the past 15 years, and almost 6,000 of these are immigrant women from a non-Western background.
Immigrant women from non-Western countries only make up 3.4 percent of the Danish population between 16 and 64 years of age, and are therefore heavily over-represented amongst long-term kontanthjælp recipients.
Both researchers and politicians consider these facts a sign of failure of the Danish benefits system.
”The kontanthjælp system is supposed to be a temporary security net and not a permanent relief scheme,” Jon Kvist, a political science professor at the University of Southern Denmark, said. “Therefore you can easily call it a sign of failure that we have a system which functions more as a salary or a parallel to the early retirement pension scheme (førtidspension).”
Erik Simonsen, the deputy director of the national employer’s association, Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, agreed.
“The councils and the employment centre system have failed and that shows that a cash benefit reform should also be an integration reform,” Simonsen said.
The employment minister, Mette Frederiksen (Socialdemokraterne), acknowledged that numbers were a sign that the “system has failed”.
”I agree with the observation that we have created a system which appears to be a parallel to early retirement pension,” Frederiksen said. “This is a sign that the current cash benefit system has failed. It was never the intention that people would receive cash benefits for years and that parents would let their children grow up in families in which the main income is cash benefits.”
Frederiksen also admitted that the situation represented an integration issue.
“Especially for immigrant women, this causes a problem,” she said. “When thousands of them haven’t been able to provide for themselves, that creates negative consequences for gender equality. For the coming negotiations on kontanthjælp reform, we will make sure that the situation does not continue.”
Integration consultant Hans Lassen warned against making the immigrant women scapegoats. He said that many of the women have difficulties imagining themselves on the labour market due to language barriers and a lack of experience.
“They have a hard time imagining how they can be useful,” Lassen said.
However, he also thinks that there has been an overall improvement, as many of the families on kontanthjælp are very supportive of their children’s ambitions for a higher education.