Editorial | To each according to his citizenship

Giving the homeless food and shelter on a cold winter’s night isn’t going to suddenly turn life on the streets in Denmark into an attractive option

As the homeless brace themselves for another winter on the street, many are finding that Denmark’s welfare services will be off limits to them at the time of year when they need help most.

The discussion about whether foreign homeless should be allowed access to Danish social services is the latest in a series of clashes between the welfare state and the EU’s open borders policy. It is a situation that is putting Denmark’s generosity to the test.

Previously, the country saw its welfare system prised open by decisions requiring foreigners to be granted equal access first to student grants and their child benefits. Soon, they may also be granted immediate access to unemployment benefits as well.

While it’s fair to discuss whether certain groups need to earn the right to receive benefits, it is a shame that this line of thinking should also apply to the homeless. More than the other groups that have already seen their rights to social services upheld, the homeless – whether foreign or domestic – have a need for help. Helping them ought to be one of the first priorities of a welfare state that strives to live up to the credo ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’.

It’s understandable that lawmakers don’t want Denmark to become a magnet for other Europeans with little or no prospect of ever making a contribution to society. But let’s face it, homelessness isn’t an attractive life choice for anyone. Just because we open our door to the homeless who are already here does not mean we are going to be overrun by immigrants from all over the EU.

In fact, many of the European homeless denied access to social services came here specifically to work, but for whatever reason lost their jobs. Denying them a place to sleep and food to eat makes it all but impossible for them to find a new job and again contribute to the economy.

Eurosceptics will see the discussion of benefits for foreign homeless as more reason for why Denmark should push back from EU integration, seal its borders and kick out immigrants who aren’t contributing more to the system than they are getting out of it.

Denmark, it seems, wants to reap the contributions of one type of immigrant (highly educated) yet avoid having to provide care for another (low skill) when they stumble.

That such hypocritical attitudes exist isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that they are found in a Scandinavian welfare state that likes to preach the benefits of its universal benefits system.