Ownership and Solidarity and their roles in poverty matters…..


The other night something rare happened. It hasn’t happened for a long long time, but for some reason I switched on the TV. It was Saturday and every Saturday one of the Danish channels have ‘theme night’. This evening was about welfare. Ever since I turned off the TV on Saturday, one episode has been coming back to my mind and I want to try to express my concern about it trying not to judge or point fingers – or sound like a cold monster. I want to make you think about it a bit. 

The episode is on a bus. They gathered a group of 10 people from many different layers of society and through the show asked them to cut down 15 billion kroner on welfare. It was a constructed situation and politicians would never be forced to make decisions like that, but something interesting happened.

A young female student was asked how she felt about the government support many people receive (kontanthjælp). She said that she thinks there should be an incentive to work. The amount given to people should be so low that they would want to work to get a better life. The reporter then asked her if she would have the courage to say that if one of these people was right in front of her. She would.

…..and she did. After a discussion about where to cut millions, she was dared to tell another member of the group how she felt. His answer was: ‘I can only say one thing, solidarity’.

My concern in this is that whenever I hear receivers of this support make statements in the news, none of them seem to want to get out of it. They only complain about how little they get and that it is hard to make a living that way. It seems to me as if they have stopped taking ownership of their own happiness and life letting it all out on welfare. It seems like they can just draw the ‘solidarity card’ and then all other arguments will make people look like cruel, selfish monsters in stead of healthy, proactive beings trying to give them a way out.

I know that a group of these people are actually suffering from mental illness or have other needs that the ‘system’ doesn’t recognise. I have been on government support when I was sick and you wouldn’t hear me complain. I was so thankful that our welfare system spread out a safety net and caught me – and the amount I got was more than sufficient. No, I couldn’t go out for dinner in a fancy restaurant or buy new clothes and things every week. Of course not. The idea with government support is and should be to support for a short while until people get back on their feet.

I often wonder why the government keeps giving people fish in stead of teaching them to catch fish. I personally don’t think that this is about saving money on income transfers or anywhere else for that matter. I think this is about helping people find their unique potential and empower them to develop and grow, teach them confidence and show them that there is a way – a better way.

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