Some things puzzle me in the so-called welfare tourism debate.
So far no-one has questioned if it’s fair for some foreigners to pay full Danish taxes while not receiving any kinds of rights, social benefits or help.
Usually that has caused trouble throughout world history. Just think of the American Revolution when the patriots fought under the motto “No taxation without representation”.
Let it be said right away: both in my time as integration minister and now, I find it appalling if the first thing that happens when you set foot on Danish ground is that you get a check in your hand or are offered housing. For instance, the Danish state is obliged to take care of homeless gypsies/Roma even though these people refuse to or can’t work. I find that appalling and wrong.
But what about those who really can and want to work?
Part of the reason I ask is that it was revealed that foreigners pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits (I will probably look more closely into that, but let’s accept it for the time being). And also because the UK’s work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, announced that he wants to see immigrants banned from receiving welfare for up to two years after they arrive.
I also ask because I recently in a parliament council had to stop an Enhedslisten representative making what I clearly saw as a racist tirade against resident Poles (who don’t take up a lot of space in the unemployment lines by the way). How can you speak that way about your neighbours – hard-working and skilled workers who are wanted in the Danish business world and wouldn’t hurt a fly? Who, I might add, also take on a wide range of tasks that Danes clearly don’t want or can’t be bothered to do.
The tough question is if these foreign workers should also be let off from paying taxes. Usually the Danish argument for the welfare state and the colossal pressure of taxation has been: “Well, we get so much in return.”
That surely doesn’t count much for foreigners who can’t receive anything: from child support and the occasional allowance to healthcare and education. To claim that such a system is symmetrical – that is to say that there is a correlation between what you pay and what you get – is a bit problematic.
As Chairman Mao said, tax is something the state collects and no-one can demand getting anything in return at all.
That definitely seems to be the viewpoint expressed in the debate on welfare tourism. There are at least two alternatives to that viewpoint.
One is to give foreigners deductions on income tax, healthcare, social security, school for their kids and general insurance for two years. The benefit would be that it will make it far more attractive to work and establish a life in Denmark.
Or there is the more clear-cut standpoint that if one is not entitled to receive benefits, one shouldn’t pay taxes either.
I imagine that many Danes would embrace the last solution for themselves.
Of course you could simply introduce an entrance fee upon entering Denmark amounting to something like 300,000-400,000 kroner for the state. It’s debatable if that would be beneficial compared to how many foreigners are actually employed in Denmark and how many the labour market can absorb. Like any other discrimination of EU citizens, that scheme would probably be illegal.
So the answer remains blowing in the wind … There has to be a solution somewhere to suppress actual welfare tourism, so that those who don’t give don’t get. Without receiving social benefits, those who don’t work won’t be able to pull down those who do work hard in Denmark. Denmark needs the free movement of workers. Especially skilled Poles who take on tasks that others won’t.
For all the above reasons, Venstre has called for an account of how much the state pays in social benefits for migrant workers. That will hopefully provide an overview of the situation, so that we can have a qualified debate on a tricky subject.
What’s most important is to rediscover a sense of fairness and to not punish the industrious.
The author is an MP for Venstre.