The government has proposed forcing immigrants to learn Danish in exchange for continuing to receive their unemployment benefit, kontanthjælp.
The government proposal was made as it negotiates a reform of kontanthjælp and is designed to target immigrants who passively receive kontanthjælp without any demands being made of them. This is because they are classified as being too far from the labour market for ordinary back-to-work programmes to be successful.
A recent report revealed that immigrant women from non-Western backgrounds are highly over-represented in this group of kontanthjælp recipients and now the government has decided that improving the women's language skills is the first step to reintroducing them to the labour market.
“We have closed our eyes and let them sit at home behind their curtains,” the integration minister, Karen Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), told Politiken newspaper. “We have paid them a cheque without setting any demands. There’s nothing wrong with supporting people, but it’s not ok that people have been left to their own devices.”
The government wants to abolish the three categories that kontanthjælp recipients are divided into according to how employable they are. Those in the second and third categories are considered furthest from the labour market and so fewer demands are made of them in order to qualify for kontanthjælp.
Instead the government wants to judge recipients on a more individual basis and supply them with education or training to help them find employment.
In the case of non-Western immigrants, the government argues that improving their Danish skills is the first step to helping them become more self-sufficient.
“Many of these women are incredibly capable and arrived in Denmark after fleeing from war and destruction, and managed to bring up their children despite it all,” the employment minister, Mette Frederiksen (Socialdemokraterne), told Politiken. “Many have ended up becoming marginalised because they have passively received benefits for so many years. This reform will set demands and expectations of them.”
Opposition party Venstre (V) welcomed the government’s proposal but was sceptical over whether it would actually change anything.
“We can already demand that immigrants take Danish lessons or lose their right to kontanthjælp if they refuse,” Inger Støjberg (V) told Ritzau.
Støjberg also criticised the government for abolishing several immigration regulations that the former V-led government introduced as incentives to get immigrants off welfare and into work. The current government removed them arguing that it forced immigrants into poverty.
“The government has created a labour market in which fewer immigrants work, and then they try to repair the damage,” Støjberg said. “I would rather have immigrants working than sitting in classrooms.”