Government keen to cut refugee benefits

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Norway’s conservative government is proposing major cuts in welfare benefits for refugees in Norway. It cites the record influx of refugees into Norway last year and the costs of maintaining current benefit programs for so many people.

Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie unveiled plans to reduce welfare benefits for refugees in Norway. The plans will need to be approved by the Parliament. PHOTO: Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet/Jan Richard Kjelstrup

Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie unveiled plans to reduce welfare benefits for refugees in Norway. The plans will need to be approved by the Parliament. PHOTO: Arbeids- og sosialdepartementet/Jan Richard Kjelstrup

“In 2015 Europe experienced perhaps the largest stream of refugees in modern times,” Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie of the Conservative Party told reporters on Monday. Norway alone, she noted, took in 31,000 asylum seekers.

Hauglie acknowledged that the refugee influx has shrunk so far this year, largely because of tightened borders and active measures proposed by the government, and finally approved by Parliament, to make Norway a less attractive destination. Hauglie stressed the background for a need to cut benefits for refugees already in the country, not least if the influx picks up again.

Now the government wants to overturn the special rights refugees have to accumulate pension-, disability- and employment benefits. Whereas Norwegians must work for 40 years before they have a right to full pensions, for example, refugees are admitted to the public pension fund from their first day in the country and can demand full pension and other benefits even without meeting accumulation rules.

The government also wants to require refugees to live in Norway for at least five years before they qualify for kontantstøtte, the benefits paid to parents of children who are not sent to public day care centers but cared for at home. It also proposes raising from three to five years the time required to qualify for disability and other benefits

“It must pay off to work,” Hauglie said. “We want folks to be able to take care of themselves, instead of relying on welfare benefits from the state.”

Hauglie said the cuts could save the state around NOK 200 million the first year. By 2060, the full effect of the tighter welfare requirements could cut state costs by as much as NOK 5.6 billion.

She promised the costs of taking in refugees would not be simply transferred to local governments. Cutting benefits, Hauglie said, is a means of motivating refugees to join the workforce. Employers both in the private and public sectors must also be willing to hire refugees, with other state programs aimed at motivating them to do so.

The proposals will now be sent out to hearing, and then put forward to Parliament for approval, probably later this year.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund