A new survey of Norwegians indicates that just over half think their country’s welfare system will worsen in the years ahead. Only 10 percent think they’ll enjoy better publicly funded welfare programs than they do now.
While 51 percent of those questioned seem to be losing faith in the future of the welfare state, 32 percent think it will survive with roughly the same “cradle to grave” welfare as at present. The survey was conducted by research firm Opinion for the employers’ organization Spekter, which discussed its results at a conference in Oslo on Tuesday.
If the pessimists prevail, “folks will need to buy their welfare services (such as health- and elder care) privately,” Anne-Kari Bratten, managing director of Speketer, told news bureau ANB (Avisenes Nyhetsbyrå). “We’ll get a two-tier health care system and a two-tier educational system. That’s quite dangerous for the fragile Norwegian model (of welfare services).”
She noted at Spekter’s conference in Oslo on Tuesday that “even in Norway, there’s a limit to how high taxes can rise before folks start evaluating whether it would be better to keep their money themselves, take care of their own insurance and savings, and let down the public good for their own advantage.” She claimed that would be an “unhealthy” development.
Tougher times and priorities ahead
The survey comes after both Norway’s central bank (Norges Bank) and its conservative government coalition have repeatedly warned of tougher times ahead as the oil boom runs out. Even though the Norwegian economy has recovered surprisingly quickly after the oil price collapse of 2014, there may not be enough growth in the tax base to sustain current levels of welfare services, from sick leave and day care centers to free university education and hospitalization.
State and local governments charged with delivering public services will have to set tougher priorities. Bratten advocates “rolling up our sleeves” and fighting to maintain the welfare state.
“There are many things we can do both in business and politics,” Braaten told ANB. “We can’t allow ourselves huge transport projects that won’t be economically advantageous, and we must look at how we can increase productivity in the public sector. And, not least, we need to create well-paying jobs.”
Social differences may rise
The survey also shows that fully 71 percent of Norwegians think economic differences amongst themselves will increase over the next 20 years. Only 3 percent think social economic differences will decline.
Spekter’s Bratten also denounced the underground economy in Norway that’s fueled by on tax avoidance. She claims it exists not just through the exploitation of foreign migrant workers but also Norwegian lawyers, accountants and other professionals who contribute to concealing unregistered trade in goods and services. While 27 percent of those questioned in the survey admitted they had purchased goods or services on the black market, 61 percent responded that they knew of others who did.
“We’re talking about tax evasion that amounts to several hundred billion kroner,” she claimed. “That’s money we could use, but it out-competes serious business operators.”