Eastern European workers put in more than they take out
Study casts new light on the 'welfare tourism' debate
Workers from Poland, Lithuania, Romania and seven other eastern European nations contributed more to Danish welfare between 2009 and 2011 than they received in benefits from the state, a study from the Finance Ministry revealed.
The figures show that eastern Europeans are in Denmark to work and not to exploit Danish social benefits like the SU student grant or unemployment benefits, according to Bo Sandemann Rasmussen, a professor in economics at Aarhus University.
"On the whole, even if some people travel here only to get social benefits, the state gains from employing eastern European workers," Rasmussen told Information newspaper.
In 2009, the state paid 0.6 billion kroner on benefits like SU, unemployment benefits (dagpenge) and pensions to eastern Europeans from Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria with permanent residency in Denmark, but received 1.7 billion kroner in income taxes from the same group. Likewise, in 2011 the state received 2.2 billion kroner from eastern Europeans and spent 0.9 billion on them.
Welfare tourism may be a myth
The study follows last month's news that, despite oft-repeated concerns, eastern Europeans have not brought down wages for manual workers.
These developments cast new light on the political debate concerning so-called 'welfare tourism', according to Dorte Sindbjerg Martinsen, a professor of European politics at the University of Copenhagen.
"We have previously discussed if the welfare tourism phenomenon really exists," she told Information. "But there seems to be nothing to back up that theory when it comes to EU citizens from eastern Europe, who have been the focal point of these discussions."
Martinsen noted that the study covers the years 2009 to 2011 when the national economy was affected by a financial crisis.
"In those years you could suspect that the eastern European workers would take more in social benefits and not contribute as much through income taxes," she said. "But now we see that they still contribute to the national welfare."
Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, the EU spokesperson for opposition party Venstre, said that welfare tourism may not be threatening the national economy but that the discussion is not as much about economics as it is about fairness.
"It's not a problem when people who live, work, and pay taxes in Denmark get access to the same benefits as Danish workers as long as they do live, work and pay taxes here," he told Information. "But there's a problem if it's possible to travel to Denmark and from the first day demand social benefits like child support, SU or unemployment benefits. Then we risk attracting the wrong people."