Councils defying unemployment reform

Local job creation schemes helping workers stay on the dole

A number of councils are using millions of kroner to counter the effect of changes to the unemployment benefit, dagpenge, passed by parliament.

The parliamentary changes cut the dagpenge benefit period from four to two years. But several councils have now created special jobs programmes aimed at ensuring the availability of two more years of benefits – the same two years that parliament cut.

The job creation scheme is running into criticism from those who say that it is undermining necessary austerity measures. In Aarhus, for example, the council has spent 16 million kroner to place 40 long-term unemployed workers into temporary positions in municipal elderly care.

But council employees defended their actions.

"It's an opportunity to lend a helping hand to some people who would otherwise be forgotten by a cynically-created political settlement,” alderman Thomas Medom (Socialistisk Folkeparti) told Politiken newspaper.

Six councils are reportedly on track to use over 23 million kroner creating approximately 180 special jobs with names like ‘pool jobs’ or 'akutjob plus', in reference to the government’s creation of 12,500 ‘akutjobs’.

Models vary from council to council, but the objective is to provide long-term unemployed workers who are close to losing their benefits with jobs that will ensure them the number of hours they need to become entitled to another two years of unemployment benefits. Dagpenge eligibility requires 1,924 hours of work over the last three years.

Several councils, including Frederikshavn and Kerteminde, are focusing on providing jobs to those workers who lack the fewest hours to reach the 1,924 total. They give them jobs for exactly the number of hours they lack in order to continue receiving their benefits.

But some have questioned whether the councils are breaking the law by creating the temporary jobs. 

In northern Jutland, the state examiner, Statsforvaltningen, is investigating whether the make-work model adopted by Frederikshavn Council is within legal limits. The legality of the council’s plans falls into question because it is placing specific people into specific positions and reserving the jobs for council residents without advertising them publicly.

Jette Linnemann, the deputy head of Statsforvaltningen, told Politiken that some of the models seem to be outside of the law and the Frederikshavn plan has been suspended until the investigation is complete.

Frederikshavn's mayor, Lars Mejlvang Mills (Venstre), said that at its root, the programme was “about people”.

Venstre MP Ulla Tørnæs, however, called the job creation plans “unsympathetic”.

"They keep people on public assistance,” Tørnæs told Politiken. “Local authorities should ensure that the unemployed are given an opportunity for sustainable employment rather than construct a merry-go-round of permanent assistance.”

Employment Minister Mette Frederiksen (Socialdemokraterne) said in an e-mail that local councils are responsible for complying with the law.

"I can not assess whether the individual constructions are legal, but they are being investigated,” said Frederiksen.

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