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City Welfare System Under Attack

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City Welfare System Under Attack

Reykjavík City Hall

Reykjavík City Hall. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

The welfare system of Reykjavík has been harshly criticized for the past few days. What sparked the debate was an interview Friday in Fréttablaðið with Björk Vilhelmsdóttir, a social worker and city council representative for the Social Democratic Alliance, who is about to renounce her municipal position, unhappy with the current welfare policy.

In the interview, she harshly criticizes the tendency of social workers to focus on their clients’ weaknesses, making them eligible for social support, instead of emphasizing their strengths and encouraging them to work and be self-supportive. She claims it’s the responsibility of social workers to help people see their strengths and ways to use them. If people who can work are encouraged not to, she believes they get stuck in a vicious circle of poverty and bad health, ending up costing society even more.

“I believe the system shows too much leniency, and that we give financial assistance to too many people who are able to work. We could save a lot of money by reducing the number of people on financial assistance. Besides we would save health-related costs for the future,” Björk states, and adds, “I believe we should give young people opportunity, if not to work, then to educate themselves.”

Today, Grímur Atlason, manager of Iceland Airwaves joined the debate, Vísir reports, harshly criticizing the city’s welfare system. He calls it a bureaucracy without a solution, whose only goal is to maintain itself. “Solutions are seriously needed in Reykjavík and individuals get stuck in the helplessness of the system.” Grímur believes the number of staff in city offices could be vastly reduced without affecting service. “Too much money is spent on keeping people at desks doing little else than putting people on waiting lists.”

Sigríður Björk Ingadóttir, Social Democratic Alliance, chairwoman of the Alþingi Wefare Committee, criticized Björk and said a strong welfare system worked best to encourage people to work.

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson has criticized the Social Democratic Alliance for wanting to increase benefits in society.

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