Financing of unemployment benefits plan under scrutiny

Unemployed who run out of benefits will be helped using cuts to Danish classes and increased payments to unemployment insurers

The government announced yesterday a plan to help people who have lost their unemployment insurance benefit, dagpenge, after they introduced a reform this January that cut the length of time it can be claimed.

The measures, which will run until 2017, will soften the blow of the reform by allowing people who lose their dagpenge to claim the less generous benefit kontanthjælp but with fewer strings attached.

The 960 million kroner needed to finance the proposal will be found by cutting Danish lessons for foreigners and asking members of unemployment insurers (a-kasser) to pay an additional 60 kroner a month, falling to 10 kroner a month in 2015. 

Before the announcement, the political spokesperson for far-left party Enhedslisten (EL), Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, welcomed the government’s attempt to help the unemployed.

“Everyone knows that the dagpenge situation is our top priority and the government knows that we want a solution before July 1,” Schmidt-Nielsen told Jyllands-Posten. She later added, however, that she was disappointed that Danish lessons may get cut.

EL successfully blocked the government’s proposal to cut 200 million kroner from Danish classes in this year’s budget. The government had claimed that the courses could be offered at the same level with less, though EL argues that the government has yet to show how this is possible.

“The government attempted to convince us that you can have severe cuts and a better quality. It didn’t work then, but they are welcome to try again,” Schmidt-Nielsen told Information newspaper. 

According to the employment minister, Mette Frederiksen (Sociademokraterne), there are ways of saving money on language classes without sacrificing the quality.

“Foreigners are entitled to three years of Danish lessons when they come to Denmark, but many drop out and never complete the education,” Frederiksen told Jyllands-Posten newspaper. “Money is being wasted by renting class rooms, which is why we want to start a different programme called 'IntroDansk'. It’s shorter, more intensive and more geared towards the labour market.”

But Poul Neergaard, the chairman of the language school association, De Danske Sprogcentre, warns that introductory Danish courses are too basic and designed for transient workers, not people who intend to stay in the country.

“I doubt it will produce any savings,” Neergaard told Jyllands-Posten. “Many students who take the intro course will have to just start on a real Danish course afterwards.”

EL also criticised the proposal to finance the plan by only making a-kasser members pay more, arguing that everyone should be paying to support Denmark’s unemployed.

The government’s proposal has received a mixed response. Opposition leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen (Venstre) told Jyllands-Posten that the government should instead focus on creating jobs while Joachim B Olsen (Liberal Alliance) criticised the government of trying to help people who wouldn’t help themselves.

“Let’s be honest, it’s highly unlikely that the people who are losing their dagpenge will actually make themselves available to the labour market,” he wrote on Facebook. “But if you complain enough in Denmark, there will always be a well-meaning Socialdemokrat ready with a check.”

While EL is due to meet the government tomorrow to discuss its proposal, coalition partner Socialistisk Folkeparti has proposed introducing flexible rules for earning dagpenge that change depending on the state of the nation’s economy.