More state funds for elder care

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Norway’s left-center coalition government is handing over another NOK 1 billion for elder care, after recent criticism that it wasn’t doing enough for the country’s senior citizens. Opposition politicians in Parliament still aren’t satisfied.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg greeted 100-year-old Elsa Bergljot Monsrud during a visit to Sofienbergsenteret in Oslo last month. He claims his government is investing heavily in elder care. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who was opening a new nursing home and treatment center in Sørum north of Oslo on Friday, has repeatedly noted that his government has provided “massive” funding for elder care. The new funding (equivalent to about USD 166 million) is a further increase, Stoltenberg said, that he hopes will be used for new nursing home facilities.

The money is being granted to local governments, which are responsible for social welfare services but rely heavily on state funding. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the extra funding now was unusual, but made possible because of an increase in tax revenues to the state.

“We see a need for more nursing homes and senior housing,” said Stoltenberg’s Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.

So have opposition politicians, some of whom have complained that the government has been giving a disproportionate share of support to families with young children, and that the country’s elderly deserve more.

State funding for such welfare services as parental leave, the monthly children’s welfare payments that all parents receive (barnetrygd), and not least day care centers for pre-schoolers has been massive indeed. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported this week that the state will spend NOK 15.1 billion next year just on Norway’s generous parental leave, more than it spends on the state police force.

The Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), Norway’s most conservative, has decided that “nok er nok” (“enough’s enough”), and will vote against a proposal to further increase fully paid parental leave to 47 weeks. Retired Frp boss Carl I Hagen told Dagsavisen earlier in the week that “newborn babies aren’t worth more than the elderly who also need care.” He thinks it’s high time that the elderly now get top priority in the fight for state funding.

Current Frp leader Siv Jensen was quick to downplay the government’s new funding boost for elder care. “Throwing a billion kroner on the table isn’t enough,” Jensen told Aftenposten. She said the money “should be earmarked,” to prevent local governments from using it for other purposes than new nursing home beds. She also claimed that extra allocations like this one “don’t give the municipalities long-term (funding) security.”

Raymond Johansen, secretary of Stoltenberg’s Labour Party, dismissed Hagen’s complaints, telling Dagsavisen it was “typical” of him to “set two groups (the elderly and the young) up against each other.”

Dagfinn Høybråten, outgoing leader of the Christian Democrats, welcomed the new funding but also indicated it wasn’t enough, and called for a “dignity guarantee” to be approved as a law on behalf of the elderly.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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