Government flunks welfare test

Another new public opinion poll shows that only 10 percent of Norwegians think their primary welfare services – schools, health- and elder care – have improved in recent years. Nearly 30 percent now have less faith that Norway’s public sector will deliver the services individual Norwegians need and can demand. 

The results of the poll, conducted by analysis firm Respons for labour federation Unio, amount to more bad news for the left-center government coalition that has ruled Norway for the past seven years. It took power in 2005, claiming Norwegians would see and feel a difference in how the country was run, and that education and health care in particular would improve.

Government on the defensive
The coalition, led by the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) and including the Socialist Left (SV) and Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp), wrote in its own political platform that its government would “improve, strengthen and renew public welfare services.” Now the same coalition is running for re-election next year but faces challenges in defending its record:

Only 9 percent, according to the poll results reported by newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday, have more faith the public sector will deliver the welfare services they need. Another 26 percent responded that they now have less faith that the public sector will deliver the services they need. Sixty percent said their faith in the public sector was unchanged.

Those responding to the survey who said they were likely to vote for either the opposition Conservative or Progress parties claimed they now have even less faith that the public sector will deliver what they need, with fully 45 percent of Progress Party members feeling worse off now than they were a few years ago. The figure for the Conservatives was 35 percent.

What’s worse for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Labour Party, which leads the government, is that his own voters have lost faith as well: 14 percent of Labour voters have less faith and only 13 percent have more faith that they’ll get the timely health care they need or that their children will get a good education.

‘Warning,’ but Stoltenberg sees things differently
Among members of the large labour federation LO, around 30 percent have less faith in the public sector, and only 10 percent have more faith. LO is traditionally a major supporter of the Labour Party.

Anders Folkestad, leader of the union federation Unio that sponsored the survey, said its results pose a warning for the coalition government. “Confidence that the public sector will provide is sinking,” Folkestad told Dagsavisen.  “Folks don’t think the government has delivered.”

Stoltenberg, whose own popularity is slipping in the polls as well, chose to look at the numbers differently: “This survey show that there’s a high degree of confidence in the Norwegian welfare state,” Stoltenberg said. “Seven of 10 voters have unchanged or increasing confidence in the welfare system.”

Confronted with the figures showing 26 percent have less faith, Stoltenberg said he was “more concerned with what’s actually happening,” and claimed public confidence was moving “in the right direction.” He cited international studies showing Norwegian welfare systems to be better than most others in the world.

“Even though we rank at the top, we can be even better,” Stoltenberg allowed. He said it was “understandable” that many Norwegians don’t realize how well off they are: “Impressions of the welfare state can be influenced by many things, but naturally enough, the most attention is paid to what doesn’t function.” Years of headlines about long waiting lists and trouble at Norwegian hospitals is likely one example.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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