Denmark has witnessed an increase in the number of people living below the poverty line, according to new figures released by Eurostat.
The figures show that 7.9 percent of the Danish population now lives below the poverty line, up from 4 percent in 2001.
Many European countries have seen a decrease in the number of poor, with Norway cutting its rate of poverty from 7.2 percent in 2007 to 6.1 percent today.
According to Morten EjrnÃ¦s, lecturer at Aalborg University, the increased level of poverty is the result of government policies dictated by the belief that individuals are to blame for being poor.
He said the policies were the result of conscious political decisions to “make the least well-off poorer”, and dated back to 1999 with the government of Socialdemokrat PM Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. Those policies were continued during a decade of rule by the centre-right Venstre-Konservative government.
Â“This is the reason we have seen more and more poor people,” EjrnÃ¦s told Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper.
EjrnÃ¦s pointed to the decision by the former governments to introduce less generous forms of welfare benefits, such as reduced kontanthjÃ¦lp and starthjÃ¦lp, which used reduced benefit payments as enticement to encourage unemployed people to find work. After coming to power at the end of last year, the Socialdemokraterne-led government abolished these so-called “poverty-inducing” benefits by the centre-left.
Eurostat has used the OECD definition of poverty, which refers to someone who has less than half the amount of disposable income after tax than the average person. In Denmark, you are poor if you have less than 8,450 kroner left each month after tax.
This relative indicator of poverty has been criticised by many as being an unreliable indicator of wealth Â– the Danish poverty line would be far higher than the Romanian poverty line, for instance.
And looking at another indicator of wealth, material deprivation, the Danes seem to be doing very well.
According to EurostatÂ’s figures from 2008, only 10 percent of Danes could not afford an annual week-long holiday away from home, compared with 37 percent of Europeans.
But while the poverty line is relative, Finn Kenneth Hansen, researcher at the Center for Alternative Society Analyses, argued that it still a good indicator of rising levels of inequality.
Â“If everyone gets richer from one year to the next, then the relative poverty line also moves up, and those who fall under that line are considered poor even though they are earning more,Â” Hansen told Kristeligt Dagblad in 2010.
Â“But if residents who were the worst off got their fair share of societyÂ’s general economic growth, then you would also expect a fall in the number of those earning under the relative poverty line Â– and that just hasnÂ’t happened.Â”
A debate about poverty was reignited in December last year by Ã–zlem Cekic from the Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF), who wanted to introduce a definition of poverty in Denmark in order to better tackle the issue.
Several organisations have expressed support for the poverty definition. Jann Sjursen from the social welfare organisation RÃ¥det for Socialt Udsatte argued that a definition of poverty would allow more targeted action towards society’s most marginalised members.
Â“The big problem with not having a poverty line in Denmark is that every time new numbers are released by different organisations and institutes, we start talking about whether the numbers really describe poverty,Â” Sjursen told the Ritzau news bureau, adding that there were many people in Denmark who were marginalised and poor.
Â“Some people live on the edge of our society. While some simply donÂ’t have a foot in the job market, there are also people who have addiction problems or psychological illnesses that make their lives difficult.Â”