Thu, Apr 25, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Denmark rethinks its
out-of-kilter welfare state

Danes pay the highest income tax in the world in exchange for extravagant benefits that lead to some people getting more money on welfare than when working. Many say this situation has become untenable

By Suzanne Daley  /  NY Times News Service, COPENHAGEN

It remains possible that the cost-cutting push will hurt the left-wing coalition that leads the government. By and large, though, the changes have passed easily in parliament and been happily endorsed by conservatives like Olsen, who does his best to keep his meeting with Carina in the headlines.

Carina was not the only welfare recipient to fuel the sense that Denmark’s system has somehow gotten out of kilter. Robert Nielsen, 45, made headlines in September last year when he was interviewed on television, admitting that he had basically been on welfare since 2001.

Nielsen said he was able-bodied, but had no intention of taking a demeaning job such as working at a fast-food restaurant. He made do quite well on welfare, he said. He even owns his own co-operative apartment.

Unlike Carina, who will no longer give interviews, Nielsen, called “Lazy Robert” by the news media, seems to be enjoying the attention. He says he is greeted warmly on the street all the time.

“Luckily, I am born and live in Denmark, where the government is willing to support my life,” he said.

Some Danes say the existence of people like Carina and Nielsen comes as no surprise.

Lene Malmberg, who lives in Odsherred and works part-time as a secretary, despite a serious brain injury that has affected her short-term memory, said the Carina story was not news to her. At one point, she said, before her accident when she worked full-time, her sister was receiving benefits and getting more money than she was.

“The system is wrong somehow, I agree,” Malmberg said. “I wanted to work, but she was a little bit: ‘Why work?’”

Additional reporting by Anna-Katarina Gravgaard

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