Language and Welfare Chauvinism in Denmark

I was recently asked to help some foreigners with their application for child benefit; their children live in another EU/EEA country. The people I am helping do not speak Danish or English and their employers who are supposed to help them with such matters don’t. They simply tell them that they need to contact the Danish authorities, knowing full well that they cannot communicate in Danish or English. There are many foreigners working in Denmark for non-Danish employers who are in a similar situation.

Click here for an English translation of the form you need to fill out in order to claim child benefit if you work in Denmark, but your children live in another EU/EEA country. It is my own translation and you need to contact Udbetaling Denmark (+45 70 12 80 62 – they speak English) to receive the Danish form you will need to fill out for your application. You can choose to receive it by post or digitally through E-Boks. Visit Life In Denmark’s citizen’s advice pages here for other information about social insurance and social services.

There are many foreign people working in Denmark who are not only not aware of their social rights, but also not aware of the questions they can and should ask. The Danish welfare system is not equipped for this perhaps because the state and society do a very good job of ‘socializing’ Danes through the childcare and school system. The Danes have grown up in a very strong welfare state and they know how to navigate and use it. If you have not grown up in one, and worse, if you have grown up in a state or country that is hostile towards citizens, then it is not quite as straight forward as ‘just asking’. Moreover, the information provided in the English version of many Danish websites (public and private institutions and companies) is very often not comprehensive.

In Copenhagen municipality there used to be spaces reserved in a number of daycare institutions for children with parents who both have a foreign language as their mother tongue. They were called ‘Sprogpladser’. The institution that I wanted to send my son to had a huge waiting list but two free ‘Sprogpladser’ back in 2013. Luckily a friend of mine told me about them, and so he was admitted to the institution precisely when I needed him to be. The scheme was branded a failure and was phased out in 2014 because there was only a 50% uptake mainly by ‘Western’ families rather than the ‘non-Western’ families they were intended for. I wonder whether the failure was due to lack of information in other languages, and lack of awareness among users.

Nowadays, by the way, there is a scheme called PLUS-PLADS that is intended for children who have Danish language challenges. The PLUS spaces are in institutions where the majority of the children have Danish as their first language. Children can be referred there by a nurse, a language expert or another health professional. The complete information is however, as far as I can see, still only available in Danish here.

It is true that foreigners should be encouraged to learn, speak, read and write in Danish, but that is a process that takes time. With an increasing number of foreign workers arriving in Denmark at all skills levels, I can’t help but think that more needs to be done to facilitate easier and more efficient use of the public services for foreign residents, whether they are temporary or permanent, if for no other reason than to avoid welfare chauvinism.

What do you think?

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