Child poverty in Denmark: Balancing adult work discipline and child welfare in social work?

Betina Jacobsen, Iben Nørup, Stina Krogh Petersen

Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalPaper without publisher/journalResearchpeer-review


Active welfare state reforms have been implemented all over Europe. Though the specific design of active welfare state reforms vary between the countries the majority of the reforms include elements of benefit reductions in an attempt to make work pay and increase the individual incentive to take up work as well as an increased conditionality which stresses the individuals willingness to participate in activation to work in order to receive benefits. Many of the reforms also increase the threat of sanctions if the individual is not making sufficient effort to look for work or improve his or her workability. These policies are often referred to as ‘work first’ or activation policies.
Among the Scandinavian countries Denmark is the country that has gone farthest when it comes to implementing active welfare state reforms and work first based policies targeting vulnerable unemployed. Traditionally Denmark has been considered a country with rather generous social benefits. This is particular the case when it comes to benefits given to families with children. But with the recent reforms the financial security of vulnerable families has changed. In particular single parents and families where both parents are receiving social assistance are affected financially by the reforms. For some families this means a relatively large reduction in social benefits.
In other word the financial situation of vulnerable families has changed and with that also the conditions for doing social work with vulnerable children. Though the financial situation of the family has always played a role, material poverty among children has not previously been a common phenomenon in Denmark. This means that preventing the negative side effects of poverty has become a much more relevant task for frontline workers working with vulnerable children. At least if they are to work holistically with the child as the legislation determines.
Based on a mixed methods approach combining a large survey among almost 2000 frontline workers (FLWs) and 40 qualitative interviews with FLWs such as social workers, nursery school teachers, school teachers and health carers and drawing on the results of a recently submitted PhD. thesis the paper analysis to which extend the FLWs have adapted to the changes in the financial situation of many vulnerable families.
The results shows that despite the policy changes that has been going on for more than a decade frontline workers still pay very little attention to material poverty in their work with vulnerable children. The results also shows, that material poverty are overlooked on more than one level. Firstly, little attention is paid to poverty as a driver of vulnerability. Secondly this leads to a practice, where the social work and the initiatives aiming to reduce child vulnerability focus on the factors within the child’s immediate environment such as the relation between child and parent, and thirdly it leads to a practice where the often conflicting goals of the active labour market policies targeting the parents and the (preventive) social policies targeting the children are not recognized.
• Social work in changing political landscapes
• Social work in contexts of social upheaval and changing communities
• Social work history, identity and practice in changing times and across varied contexts

Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventESWRA 2018 - Edinburgh
Duration: 18 Apr 201820 Apr 2018


ConferenceESWRA 2018


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