When dear ones cost us dear

Kelly Draper is a British teacher who came to Denmark for work. She acts informally as a critical friend to Denmark. This has not gone down particularly well with Danes, who often tell her she should like it or leave it. Her blog is at adventuresandjapes.wordpress.com.

We do not choose who we fall in love with, but the government would like us to (Photo by: Colourbox)

What I like about Denmark is how people in low-paid jobs are paid a living wage. If someone is still not able to make ends meet, the government steps up to help. I like how it is generally recognised that people should be able to live and not just survive. What is frustrating is when this recognition disappears if the same person happens to live in their country with a foreign spouse. 

When dear ones cost us dear 
Having a spouse from a non-EU country is expensive. The government requires that Danes with foreign spouses live in accommodation of certain dimensions, which takes out the possibility of reducing living costs by moving somewhere smaller. The couple must pay a large deposit (currently nearly 52,000 kroner – $8,900). The couple must have a permanent residence (or at least three years left on the lease, which makes the renewal of documents even more expensive if they need to move house). 

But what happens if their spouse cannot find a job immediately? The Dane’s pay might be a living wage for one person, but it is usually not for a couple.

Tough talking, rough results
Previous administrations, wanting to look tough on immigration, made it a rule that Danes with foreign spouses could not receive public assistance. Whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of that, the practical upshot is that there are some Danes who live in poverty in one of the most advanced welfare states in the world. Even if they have paid into the system all their lives.

The rule seems to be based on the assumption that those who require public assistance are unemployed and not contributing. The ranks of the working poor and the underemployed are almost always overlooked in discussions about poverty, but these are the groups often hit the hardest. 

Class shouldn’t count
There are written and unwritten rules about what people from different social classes may or may not do in Denmark. This is one of the written ones. People from the lower classes may not marry foreigners and live here. Only the middle and upper classes have access to this opportunity. And as with so many factors regarding class in Denmark, the problem is glossed over and outright denied.

While the rules might deter those with immediate money worries from marrying a foreigner, previously financially comfortable people can have a change of circumstances. When someone from the wrong social class is caught up in the rules, it makes the news. Instead of looking at the entire issue, the discussion centres around the individual concerned. Did she make the right sorts of decisions? Is he the right sort of person to evoke empathy? Is their spouse from the right country? 

But let’s take the discussion from another angle. Why is it that Denmark provides a safety net for the poor? I have always been told that it is because Denmark is just more civilised. So what is it about the addition of a foreign partner that means someone may not access the same support and services as before they were married?