Unemployment benefits a nagging issue as parliament opens

Government releases the catalogue of laws for consideration this parliamentary year, though unemployment benefits remain top of the political agenda

The parliamentary year kicked off yesterday and the government hopes to address over 200 laws or law changes before parliament closes again next May.

Top of the political agenda, however, is the effect of changes to the unemployment benefit, dagpenge, that were passed by the former government. According to the employment ministry, up to 16,000 people will lose their dagpenge in 2013 and will have to depend on the considerably smaller cash welfare benefit, kontanthjælp.

The former government halved the length of time that the unemployed can claim dagpenge to two years, and doubled the length of time they have to be in full-time employment before being entitled to the benefit to a year.

Indicative of the dissatisfaction over the changes, ten unions protested outside parliament yesterday in support of the thousands that will lose their jobs while the economy continues its struggle to produce new jobs.

In her opening speech, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne) argued the government had done all it could to tackle the issue.

“We need to help those without work,” she said. “That is why we are passing an emergency package for the unemployed and for those with less than six months of dagpenge left. They will get help. That is why we are giving thousands of young people new opportunities through job rotation, improved access to education and apprenticeships.”

Thorning-Schmidt has so far refused to delay implementing the new dagpenge rules another six months, which the government has already done once, and is now facing renewed calls by their far-left support party Enhedslisten to instead halve the length of time it takes to earn dagpenge.

According to Jyllands-Posten newspaper, around 7,000 people could keep their dagpenge if the earning-up period were halved, though the Finance Ministry estimates this would cost about 550 million kroner a year to fund.

It is likely that Enhedslisten will demand greater concessions for the unemployed in exchange for supporting the government’s 2013 budget, which will be debated in parliament in November and passed in December.

Factfile | Legislative agenda

Here are some of the other ‘highlights’ of the parliamentary year:

Student grant reform

The government hopes to speed up the time it takes young people to complete university by making changes to the student grant scheme.

Cash welfare benefit reform

Reform of the cash welfare benefit, kontanthjælp, will try and return the long-term unemployed back into work.

Laws to tackle forced marriages and ‘re-education trips’

The government wants to introduce new tools to tackle forced marriages such as not allowing offending family members residence in Denmark. The government also wants to create more places at crisis centres for women on the run from forced marriages as well as children that either risk being sent on, or have recently returned from, ‘re-education trips’.

Increased control of the domestic intelligence agency PET

The government wants to create a new oversight agency to regulate PET’s activities as well as strengthen parliament’s oversight of the agency.

Initiatives to combat child abuse

A new package of laws will be presented that will strengthen the state’s ability to prevent and act more quickly in cases of child abuse.

Primary and lower-secondary school reform

The government wants to improve the standards and the amount children learn in their first years in school by lengthening the school day and contact time with teachers.

New citizenship test

The current citizenship test, indfødsretsprøven, will be scrapped and replaced with a new test that will focus on more everyday aspects of life.

Victims' fund

A fund will strengthen the treatment and support for victims of crime

(Sources: Jyllands-Posten, Politiken, Statsministeriet)

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