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The skewed distribution of welfare

| By Björn Lindahl, editor-in-chief

In Finland, there has been a government crisis. In Sweden, the politicians quarrel over the Public Employment Service and in Norway the scandal where thousands were branded benefit cheats, continues. At the same time, the gap between the poor and the rich is slowly but surely increasing - even in the Faroe Islands where growth has been highest.

No one can claim that politics in the Nordic is boring. A labour conflict forced the Finnish government to resign after only six months. Tuula Haatainen is the Minister of Employment in the new government of the country’s so far youngest Prime Minister, Sanna Marin.

Sweden and Norway's employment ministers have nearly simultaneously been threatened with or survived a vote of no confidence. Sweden’s Left party wanted Eva Nordmark to resign over what party leader Jonas Sjöstedt called the ”privatisation chaos” of the country’s Public Employment Service. 

The threat was withdrawn when the government gave the service some more time and money. Its new Director-General, Maria Mindhammar, faces a difficult challenge however. She will lead the restructuring of the agency, where 4,500 people were put on notice this spring, and where 132 local job centres face closure. 

In Norway, Minister of Labour Anniken Hauglie faced a vote of no confidence, which only gained one vote – from the Red party. This does not mean her position is safe. Other parties want to wait for the conclusion of the many investigations which have been launched. These will seek answers to why Norway spent seven years misinterpreting the EU regulations on social welfare, with major consequences for thousands of Norwegians.

The first report, which was carried out internally at the NAV welfare agency, points to three factors that all begin with a C: a lack of competence, low capacity and bad communication.

We at the Nordic Labour Journal are restructuring too, albeit on a smaller scale. We will be moving away from one dominating theme in our newsletters and will work more with series of stories where we highlight a theme from many angles over time. 

We have called one of these series “The Distribution of Welfare”. It started two editions ago with the story “Money can’t buy you happiness in Iceland”. According to a report, a high income is only  1 % of what really makes Icelanders happy. 

Wage distribution does impact on society and the value basis we share in the Nordics, however. It is under threat by the fact that the richest percentile earn an ever-increasing part of wages in Iceland. Two researchers in Finland have studied the 5,000 richest Finns, based on public records. They also interviewed 90 euro millionaires and wrote one of this autumn’s most talked-about books, which we wrote about in our previous edition.

In this edition, we turn our attention to the poorest 5,000 Faroese, in a story about the debate over income distribution on the Faroe Islands. Statistics show that the Faroes have enjoyed the biggest growth out of all of the Nordics for many years, but at the same time the number of people at risk of poverty has risen from 8.9% to 10.5%.

Sonja Jógvannsdóttir, head of the SAMTAK trade union, calls it a worrying development.

We also start a new series of articles which will focus on Nordic police forces. One of Denmark’s goals during its Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers is to further Nordic police cooperation.

Our first stop is Malmö, where media in Sweden and other Nordic countries have written so much about "gang war" that Sweden’s entire image has been affected. Is the image correct?

Police statistics suggest measures have been successful – the number of shootings has been halved and the risk of being a victim of violent crime in Malmö is the lowest for twenty years. But it's hard to fill the Police Academies with students.


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