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The Danish illusion

The Danish Welfare System is on the brink of collapse, and THAT should have been the main focus of the general election.

Photographs: Monica Lylloff / #enmillionstemmer

Text: Monica Lylloff

Denmark's welfare system is often referred to as one of the best in the world - not only in international surveys such as Gallup's World Happiness Poll but also by celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and former Democratic political contender in the USA Bernie Sanders. However, although the Danish welfare system looks fantastic on paper, the reality of it in 2022 is another story altogether.

Denmark is a welfare society and a democracy under the rule of law. At least, this is the story that Danes grow up with. However, if we are unfortunate enough to need help from the welfare system one day, we quickly find out this fairy tale welfare society that we grew up being told about is nothing but an illusion. The illusion of a well-functioning welfare system is kept alive by politicians in the Danish parliament and the municipalities, who are highly skilled at telling a narrative to the general public that the Danish welfare system is fantastic, amongst the best in the world, and that it is something that politicians prioritise.

Past governments, as well as the current one, have not prioritised the welfare system that we Danes are so proud of. Consequently, the Danish welfare system is quickly disintegrating and on a direct route towards collapsing altogether.

Our daycares are so overcrowded and understaffed that our children are neglected; our elementary schools are so overcrowded and understaffed that children with special needs run away from school or don't go to school at all - sometimes up to years at a time. In addition, municipal job centres put impossible and often irresponsible demands on unemployed people who are ill and have a disability.

Psychiatric departments are massively underfinanced and short-staffed and have such poor work environments, and these departments are on the brink of collapse.

In general, work conditions at hospital departments are so poor that nurses leave public hospitals to work in private hospitals or temp agencies, resulting in a massive staff shortage countrywide.

Nursing homes are so understaffed that the elderly are neglected, as seen in a recent documentary on TV2. Disability services are so poor and inaccessible that more people with disabilities are forced into a life of insolation and deprived of the right to function as a part of Danish society.

"Disability services are so poor and inaccessible that more people with disabilities are forced into a life of insolation and deprived of the right to function as a part of Danish society."

The general election should have been about rethinking and rebuilding the entire foundation of our welfare system because the current one is falling apart. Danish politicians need to accept our welfare system's current state and act based on this knowledge.

My distrust of Danish politicians did not appear overnight. My mistrust comes from years of experience with politicians who promised to make a difference before being elected - and I believed they meant it. But as soon as they were elected into office, the majority suffered collective amnesia and made ever-changing excuses for their lack of action.

I am sick and tired of listening to politicians who compete with each other about who can be the toughest and who can make the blindest promises. I am sick and tired of watching politicians play the blame game while they collectively refuse to take real responsibility for the state of our welfare system and for changing it.

I hope that at least one of the politicians will have enough courage to work towards rethinking and rebuilding our entire welfare system. How amazing would it be if politicians could find the courage and take responsibility to work towards creating real change? Of course, it would be necessary to start by making entirely new social structures - structures where Danish municipalities are not the primary stakeholder in all welfare services and where we citizens aren't passed back and forth between municipalities and regions, as is the case right now. Needed more than anything else is a total review of how much money is used on administration by Danish municipalities and regions. This knowledge should be used to create a new financing model, which separates the responsibility for making decisions about help and the responsibility for financing this help. Decision-making should be placed in the hands of the experts with the proper knowledge and at the right time.

I hope that after this election, the elected politicians are brave enough to rethink how we organise our welfare system and how it is run. But, unfortunately, making fundamental changes will require not only courage but it will also require time and considerable financial investments.

I firmly believe that if politicians do away with illusions, work towards real change, and invest in a completely new welfare system, it will be the best return on investment that Denmark has seen in modern times.

It remains to be seen who will receive my vote by the time this article goes live. But one thing is for sure - my vote will be placed where there is the most substantial possibility for accurate, comprehensive, and long-term change.

Monica Lylloff is a lawyer, wife, mother and co-founder of #enmillionstemmer (#onemillionvoices).

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