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Undskyld vi er her (Sorry for being here)



Photograph: Pexels

Text: Michaela Medveďová / Sara R. Newell


The Danish Minister of Finance recently found himself in the middle of something the Danish media called "a shitstorm". So what was all the fuss about?


The specialised social area - a scapegoat for Municipal cutbacks

At a recent press conference where the government presented the financial bill for 2024, a journalist from DR asked the Danish Minister of Finance, Nicolai Wammen, how it was possible that so many municipalities had to make welfare cutbacks such as closing down primary schools, at the same time as the government has found several billion kroner extra and states that the Danish economy is strong and that money is not an issue. Nicolai Wammen replied that Danish municipalities make a massive effort every day but have a difficult task, as they are hit by inflation and have to make cutbacks due to expenses caused by the specialised social area - i.e., people with disabilities and other challenges.


Although the term "specialised social area" includes several groups of people who need specialised assistance services, the term is also primarily associated with social services for people with a disability. As The International has covered in several previous issues, "the specialised social area" has a long history of being underfunded and under-prioritised, which has given rise to increasing criticism of the current government and Danish social policies by citizen groups and disability organisations.


The #UndskyldViErHer campaign

The day after the press conference, hundreds of Facebook posts flourished under the hashtag #UndskyldViErHer (#SorryForBeingHere). #UndskyldViHer was started by the grassroots movement #enmillionstemmer, and the movement's Facebook group was flooded with ironic posts from people with disabilities and their families, where they apologised to Nicolai Wammen for existing and for costing society. Facebook group members used the #UndskyldViErHer campaign to speak out against the Finance Minister's statements and used their posts to detail the realities of their daily life with a disability to shed light on the already diminishing social services and support. Furthermore, several posts highlighted how difficult it is for people with a disability to gain access to social services, regardless if they are legally entitled to social services and assistance from the municipality.


One mother wrote on behalf of her 4-year-old daughter, "I am sorry. I am sorry that I was born with a rare congenital deformity which is just caused by genetic bad luck. I am sorry that the municipality I live in has to spend money on me. I am sorry that I have severe epilepsy, and that I need constant surveillance to make sure that I am ok. I am sorry that it is necessary to employ people to monitor my terminal condition. Sorry for being here!"


Shortly after the start of the campaign, Nicolai Wammen posted an apology on his Facebook profile, stating his regret that his words were perceived by people with disabilities as a criticism of them and the existence of their needs. He wrote that it was in no way his intention and that this didn't reflect his values. "I know how important it is for people and their relatives that there are good offers in the specialised social area - it is a crucial part of our welfare society," he said, concluding that he was upset if his words left people with a different idea about his views on people with a disability.


"The situation in today's Denmark has already reached such a point, that some parents of severely disabled young people and adults are so worried about what will happen to their loved ones when they no longer are not there to look after them, that they actually hope that their children will die before them." - Monica Lylloff

"A thank you to the Minister of Finance"

Among others who reacted to the statements by the Minister of Finance was Monica Lylloff, one of the founders of #enmillionstemmer. In her commentary published by Altinget.dk, she writes that the rhetoric of using people with disabilities as a scapegoat for cutbacks is nothing new: "This cuckold rhetoric has since created a political narrative that people with disabilities cost our country a lot of money, and that it is at the expense of everyone else. It has almost become the norm that when decisions about municipal cutbacks are made, the 'expensive disability area' is pointed at as one of the reasons why primary schools have to close, and why there is no money left to make sure that there are enough employees to take care of children in daycare."


Monica criticises the notion that the Minister of Finance wants to negotiate with municipalities to bring down costs for the specialised social area and points out how often municipal decisions are overturned and, furthermore, how further cuts will affect people with disabilities: "Parallel to this narrative, municipalities make mistakes in up to half of the rulings in the specialised social area, often resulting in rulings simply being overturned by a higher authority. This means that in far too many situations, people do not get help or have to wait a very long time for the necessary help. The consequences are enormous, both financially but also at a human level. Consequences for incorrect rulings can often be that people develop additional diagnoses, parents become unemployed and get sick from stress. In other words, cutbacks are planned for a system which is already totally dysfunctional."


Monica continues, "Therefore, it is quite reasonable to conclude that the Minister of Finance and other politicians are using a cynical scapegoat effect to avoid taking responsibility for implementing the major structural changes necessary to change the current situation for a large group of people. It is undignified."


While commenting on the situation on her website, Monica Lylloff paradoxically thanked Nicolai Wammen - she thanked him for reopening a much-needed discussion about the situation for people with disabilities in Denmark and their rights: "I would like to start by thanking the Minister of Finance Nicolai Wammen. Thanks to his statement at the press conference on 31 August 2023, the debate on the situation of people with disabilities and mental vulnerability has now reached a level higher."

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