Concerns rise over poverty in Norway

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Norway is widely praised and even envied for its solid economy and social affluence, but new numbers from state statistics bureau SSB show more children living in families with income low enough to be considered below the relative local poverty level. Opposition politicians claim the left-center government has not succeeded in reducing poverty even as the country’s economy has blossomed.

“I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been able to allow my children to attend birthday parties,” one 33-year-old single mother of two told newspaper Aftenposten this week. She’s unable to work because of psychological problems and relies on welfare payments.

Her teenage son wanted badly to attend celebrations marking the end of junior high school, but there was not money to buy him a suit for the school ball, or send him on the class trip. Her household income amounts to around NOK 15,000 (USD 2,700) a month, with only NOK 3,000 left after the costs of rent, utility bills and food. That doesn’t allow for much of anything in a high-price country like Norway.

Poverty in Norway is relative: Those on low incomes rarely starve or are homeless. But there’s little money for clothing, entertainment, gifts or other items that are important to the social life of a family, especially children. The single mother interviewed by Aftenposten, which brought up the issue of poverty this week, hasn’t been able to take her children on any holiday outside Oslo for years, and they’re prevented from joining in on the activities of most of their classmates.

SSB’s numbers showed 73,800 children living in relative poverty in Norway in the most recent reporting years of 2007-2009. That’s up by 6,500 since the current government took over in 2005. A family of three living on household income of less than NOK 273,000 is considered below the poverty line in Norway.

Karin Andersen of the Socialist Left party (SV), which is part of the government coalition, said in 2007 that she was ashamed that the government hadn’t managed to reduce the number of those considered poor in Norway. SV and the coalition’s dominant Labour Party have quarreled over levels of welfare assistance to poor families. Goals of helping families collide with those trying to make it more profitable to work than receive aid.

“If we really want to reduce poverty, we can’t avoid increasing economic support to those outside the job market,” said Tone Fløtten of research organization Fafo. A government anti-poverty commission has proposed boosting aid to children considerably, not least since current aid levels have declined by 17 percent since 1996 when inflation is taken into account.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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