Employment minister accused of cooking benefits books

Mette Frederiksen failed to tell parliament that more people were about to fall out of the system than was being reported

The employment minister, Mette Frederiksen (Socialdemokraterne), is being accused of deliberately deceiving parliament while the debate about unemployment benefits raged last year.

Even though the government consistently claimed that between 7,000-12,000 residents would lose their dagpenge benefits when new legislation trimming the rolls took effect in January of this year, Ekstra Bladet tabloid gained access to documents that suggest that Frederiksen knew as early as last December that the number of people falling out of the system would be much higher.

The government did acknowledge in January that its original estimate was too low, saying that between 17,000-23,000 people would actually lose their benefits. Unemployment reform was one of last year’s hottest political topics, and Frederiksen was a constant face in the media defending the government’s plan. Even though she now admits she knew in mid-December that the number would higher, she failed to reveal it until January.

Frederiksen said that she wanted to be sure that the new numbers were correct before revealing them.

“When there are changes in estimates that the government is basing policy on, we need to be sure that they were correctly calculated,” Frederiksen told public broadcaster DR.

She said that the nearly month-long gap between her knowing the numbers and actually releasing them was not an attempt to hide the facts.

“It is not unusual for a ministry to need a few weeks to check on new numbers and to keep them quiet until the government has the opportunity to discuss the changes. We have concealed nothing from parliament,” said Frederiksen.

Dennis Kristensen, the head of the trade union FOA, called the gap between Frederiksen knowing the right figures and releasing them was "disturbing".

"It is simply unheard of in a democracy," Kristensen told DR. "For the whole of December, we all had a hefty debate on which figures were correct. In that regard, I feel cheated that the real numbers were withheld."

Frederiksen, however, said that it was important that information with implications for so many people be completely discussed before it was revealed publicly, so she did not believe that the gap in releasing the figures was too large.

Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne) expressed her support for Frederiksen in spite of her being accused of concealing numbers.

"I have full confidence in my employment minister," the Thorning-Schmidt told the media covering her arrival at a summit in Brussels. She declined further comment.