What political problems does Denmark have

Country portrait Denmark

June 5th, 2020 Anette Nielsen, Jørn Henrik Enevoldsen, Samuel Pedersen Jones

  1. introduction
  2. The Danish welfare system
  3. The Danish welfare state today
    1. Health policy
    2. Senior policy
    3. Labor market policy
    4. Flexibility and security
  4. The welfare state from a historical point of view
  5. The welfare state since the 1980s
  6. On the theory and professional discourse of social work
    1. The relationship between "the social" and "the scientific"
    2. Education and research in the field of social work in Denmark
    3. Gaining knowledge in social work
    4. Digitization, the Danish welfare state and social work
      1. A. Digitization and the Danish welfare state
      2. B. The digitization of the Danish welfare state from a historical perspective
      3. C. Digitization and 'street-level bureaucracy'
    5. Digitization and the future of social work
  7. The future challenges for the Danish welfare state
  8. literature
  9. Authors

The Danish welfare state


The Danish welfare state developed at the same time as the Danish welfare society. Welfare societies can be described using the “welfare triangle”, with the support, financing and provision of welfare services being located either within the market, civil society and / or the state [1]. Every existing society can be described and analyzed by the respective social system for the provision of welfare services. In this way it can be examined how the welfare services are positioned in relation to the market, civil society and / or the state. The Danish welfare system developed through active government intervention, with childcare, for example, being largely financed through taxes. Extensive childcare services are guaranteed by the state through the provision of day-care centers and after-school care centers for families with children. This particular social infrastructure has enabled a high level of female employment and a high level of labor force participation. The precise distribution of responsibilities and the interaction between the market, civil society and the state typically vary within the various policy areas.

A characteristic of the Danish welfare state is the consensus on fundamental political values ​​between the most important political decision-makers. In the past, attempts to change social infrastructure have focused on changing specific policy areas. For example, changing the criteria for entitlement to different types of benefits or trying to introduce more market-oriented competition in the production of welfare benefits, but the basic framework has not been radically changed. Political parties that called for more radical changes in the welfare state did not receive any significant public support.

The Danish welfare society is characterized by

  1. Double-income families with a high proportion of women in the labor market
  2. The principle of individual rights, which states that legal rights are primarily granted to individuals, not families - there are no payment obligations between parents and children after the child turns 18.
  3. Assistance and social assistance are financed primarily through taxes.
  4. Most of the Danish state provides public services.

The Danish welfare system

The Danish welfare system is an example of the Nordic welfare model or the social democratic welfare system, which is characterized by the comprehensive provision of social services. This means that benefits and services represent individual legal rights that recipients can avail of thanks to their citizenship or legal residence. Examples of general welfare benefits include education, the student grant and loan program (better known as SU), health services, and family allowances. These benefits and services are available to everyone regardless of income and family situation.

Another central pillar of the Danish welfare system is the principle of individual rights, whereby social rights and benefits are individual rights that citizens and legal residents have regardless of their family situation. Benefits that illustrate the principle are the disability pension (Førtidspension), the early retirement pension (efterløn) and the unemployment benefit through the system of unemployment insurance funds (dagpenge) [2].

In addition to providing benefits and services, the welfare system also finances the health system and the operation of hospitals. And the municipalities are responsible for running day-care centers and the public school system.

Parents are guaranteed the right to day care. All municipalities in Denmark are legally obliged to provide day care for children older than 26 weeks. User fees are charged, but local authorities cover 75% of the cost. The municipalities also provide funds for private day care facilities. The childcare fees depend on the income of the parents. Low-income families pay a reduced rate or, in some cases, receive free day care. 97.5% of all children between 3 and 5 years of age attend a day care center in Denmark. This family policy is often attributed the greatest role in the high female employment rate.

One of the defining features of the Danish welfare society is the high employment rate of both sexes. In 2018, the employment rate for men was 79% and that of women 75.2%. The gender gap is mainly due to: longer maternity leave for women, slightly earlier retirement for women and a lower employment rate for migrant women. According to the Statistics Denmark In the first quarter of 2017, 36.1% of employed women between the ages of 15 and 64 worked part-time, compared to only 16.8% of men of the same age group. Between 2012 and 2018, 150,000 new jobs were created in Denmark, 44% of them with less than 20 hours of work per week (Arbejderbevægelsens erhvervsråd, 2018).

From 1975 to 2012 spending on health and social services increased from 25.2% to 33.7% of GDP. Compared to other EU countries, the Danish welfare state spends proportionally more money on social services, i.e. spending on social facilities for children, the elderly, people with disabilities, etc. For example, home care, day care facilities and the treatment of the sick (Hansen 2016, P. 519).

In 2012, the Danish welfare state, regions and municipalities covered 78% of the cost of social services, including the cost of health services. This puts the Danish welfare state at the forefront of the EU countries as the most important provider of social and health expenditure. Employers only contribute 12% to social spending (Hansen 2016, p. 518).

The Danish welfare state today

The Danish welfare system is presented through a description of three selected policy areas: health policy, senior citizens policy and labor market policy.

Health policy

The public sector in Denmark is central to the regulation, management, financing and delivery of health care: the state takes over the management of expenditure and control over the quality of the health system. Denmark is divided into five administrative districts, which are responsible for the administration of the hospitals within an overall framework set by the state, as the municipalities are not allowed to tax citizens. The state also provides the overall framework for the establishment and promotion of various medical specialties. The five regions are also responsible for psychiatric treatment and access to general practitioners, specialist treatments and health insurance funding. (sygesikring). If patients are not offered treatment within one month of a diagnosis (in certain medical areas), they can take advantage of free treatment in a private hospital of their choice (also in other regions) (Greve 2019, p. 173). All treatments are free. Within the primary sector there is a co-payment for prescription drugs.

The five administrative districts, together with the municipalities, are responsible for ensuring the transition from hospital to local care. The municipalities are responsible for preventive health measures and rehabilitation. For example, the communities offer preventive home care and exercise programs for people over the age of 75. Another part of community-level outpatient work is done by health workers (nurses) who visit families after childbirth. This is part of a government prevention program aimed at children and their families. This is done to determine if assistance from the authorities is required. The municipal utilities are also made available to families free of charge.

Provinces and municipalities cooperate with general practitioners in the primary sector. The regions negotiate with the resident doctors about collective agreements and the various health services.

In 2017 the health expenditure amounted to 182 billion crowns. This corresponded to 16.4% of the total amount of public expenditure and 8.4% of GDP (Jespersen and Greve 2019, p. 126). Compared to other EU countries, health care expenditure is relatively low. In Denmark, health care accounts for 21% of social spending, compared to 30% on average in the EU (Hansen 2016, p. 516).

Senior policy

The demographics of the aging society is a challenge for most western welfare states. Social spending on the elderly accounts for 43% of all social spending in Denmark - by far the largest item of expenditure. Seniors' benefits amount to 61% of all government cash benefits. And social benefits for older people reach 17% of the total amount of social benefits provided by the state (Hansen 2016, p. 515).

There is no direct correlation between the number of senior citizens and public spending on the elderly: health spending depends on the general health of the elderly. Public spending on state pensions is based on when citizens retire and the size of private pension systems. In the future, the taxation of pensions will become an important source of government income for financing social benefits (Andersen & Hansen 2016, p. 518).

The so-called “Welfare Compromise” (Velfærdsforliget) of 2006 was intended to “secure” the “future” of the state pension by gradually increasing the retirement age to 67 by 2022. From 2025, the retirement age will follow the life expectancy of people in their sixties, with an adjustment every five years. As a result, the higher the life expectancy, the higher the retirement age. It also means that the early retirement age will be gradually raised to 64 and that the state early retirement pension will be reduced if the citizens have a different pension income or assets. As a result, the number of early retirees fell from 191,000 to 91,000 in 2013.

The state pension remains a central pillar of the Danish pension system. Together with the housing benefit (boligydelse) and other pension benefits, the state pension offers the highest minimum benefit in the Nordic countries. This will almost completely eradicate poverty among retirees as they receive full state pensions. However, an increasing number of older people are not receiving the full statutory pension. The originally universal approach that shaped the Danish pension system has undergone moderate changes, so that the state pension is calculated in relation to household and additional income.

The Danish pension system is a three-tier system. It consists of the state pension, labor market pension systems and individual pension systems. The pension systems in the labor market have been created through collective agreements and old age pensions have gradually increased. Two thirds of the pension contributions are paid by employers and one third by employees. The labor market pension systems are still in the process of being converted, but in the future a larger proportion of wage earners will receive more from the company pension than from the state pension when they retire from the labor force.

A larger proportion of people opt for their own individual pension plan, which is tax deductible to a certain extent.

As already mentioned, the Danish pension system has become more branched and multi-layered, with a stronger focus on the individual contribution. This development can be summarized as follows:

  • From a primarily one-tier system to a three-tier system.
  • From an almost entirely public system to a system with a very strong individual component.
  • From a tax-financed system where current taxpayers finance the state pension to a strong personal savings system where retirees rely more on their own personal or labor market pension savings.
  • From a primarily universal system to a system in which all tax-financed benefits, with the exception of the state pension, are dependent on income and assets.

Compared to other countries, Denmark is expected to face fewer economic problems with its aging population. The proportion of older people is growing more slowly than in other countries and the pension system is more dependent on personal savings through labor market pension systems and / or individual pension systems. In addition, the retirement age has been raised more than in most other countries (Andersen og Hansen 2016, p. 331).

The benefits for seniors in Denmark are different from most other countries. After a needs assessment, home care is basically free of charge. However, since 2007 and after, funding for such services has been reduced and the proportion of people over 85 receiving help in their household has declined. Half of those over 80 do not receive home care. It was discussed whether this is a consequence of the reduced funding or whether the elderly are living increasingly healthier lives, which in turn means that they can keep their mobility much longer and only need support later.

Although some believe that the economic challenges related to the aging population in Denmark have been adequately addressed, there are still significant social challenges for older citizens. Some seniors are struggling with problems due to the psychological stress of their work and are unlikely to be able to continue their jobs until retirement age. Likewise, the marginalization of seniors who have difficulty finding employers who are willing to hire them is a major challenge.

Labor market policy

Over the past few decades, the perception of the causes of unemployment has shifted. In the past, unemployment was an insufficient structural demand for labor and goods, whereas today it is increasingly perceived as a problem of available labor. The unemployed lack essential skills or have no incentives to work due to generous unemployment benefits. The change in the perception of unemployment has had a significant impact on recent Danish labor market policy, which has seen significant changes over the past few decades.

Since 1990 there has been a trend from a passive to an active labor market policy, whereby the requirements for the unemployed have increased. Labor market policy is now administered by a local employment office, and much of what used to apply to social policy has been incorporated into labor market policy. This has been described as a transition from welfare to labor welfare.

The Danish workforce has undergone continuous labor market reforms since the early 2000s: all laws regulating benefits have been reformed, seven new types of benefits have been introduced and the categories for the different types of unemployment have been revised twice.In addition, the system by which the state reimburses municipalities for the costs of various measures has also been changed twice (Andersen & Larsen 2018, p. 48).

In the 1990s, what later became known as “Aktivlinjen” dominated labor market policy in Denmark. The attitude towards unemployment benefits has shifted from an insurance that is financed by taxes and thus a civil right in the event that one loses one's job, to a system of obligations in which ever higher demands are placed on the unemployed in order to achieve the right to maintain performance. The new requirements are broad: applicants are expected to apply for jobs in a larger regional area regardless of where they live and where they are educated; they have to take part in work activities (Aktiving) that have little or nothing to do with their particular needs Skills or work experience. Finally, they may be required to take courses that some criticize as a waste of time. This line has changed from its original introduction in the early 1990s, when the focus was on social integration, to disciplinary social measures and “work first” principles into the 2000s. The main focus has been on finding the fastest route back into employment, resulting in changes in the job market Availability assessments (rådighedsvurdering), increased use of sanctions and reduced financial compensation for the unemployed in the form of Cash benefits for assistants led (Christensen 2019, p. 76). The “work first” principles should increase focus on employment and decrease attention to other social problems that recipients of Cash benefits for assistants could have. Most unemployed people should get their guidance and advice from the local employment agency.

In 2009 the organizational structure of the Danish labor market was reformed. The previous two-tier state system organized the self-insured unemployed and the municipal employment efforts against the uninsured and sick employees, which were now combined in the municipal employment office. Prior to this reform, the existing employment policy had been criticized.

The criticism was very explicit in its concern. “The system has to be designed in such a way that we can be sure that the rules laid down by Parliament are being followed. No minister can live with being held accountable for something over which he has no control. We need priorities that are agreed between central and local institutions. ”Claus Hjort Frederiksen, (Minister of Labor), d. October 27, 2003. (Larsen & Caswell, 2015, p. 14, our translation)

The government at the time was very dissatisfied with what it described as the lack of alignment of the systems with employment and the inadequate use of availability assessments and sanctions for the unemployed.

The new one-tier system was introduced along with a number of measures to strengthen centralized control of local employment policy. The Reimbursement Act [3] was amended to create economic incentives for municipalities to bring unemployed people into work and to make greater use of certain types of employment measures, such as job placement (virksomhedspraktik). The number of internships increased by 50% between 2009 and 2011. In addition, improved coordination to monitor and compare municipal employment policies and a number of more standardized employment procedures have been introduced.

The organizational responsibilities of the employment offices were divided into two departments: one department focused primarily on helping the unemployed to find a new job, and another department monitored payments and penalties. The employment-focused section provides the unemployed with an employment advisor who oversees individual case management, application processing, admission procedures [4] and monitoring of individual unemployed people's progress. The “Benefits and Sanctions” department takes care of the payment of benefits to the unemployed and imposes sanctions if the unemployed do not comply with the rules and requirements of the law. Unemployed people with other social problems should contact other offices in the city administration.

The reforms transformed a universal, unconditional and partially passive social compensation system into a system characterized by active labor market policy.

Flexibility and security

The Danish flexicurity model is a good example of how the different dimensions of the Danish welfare society interact. The Danish labor market is characterized by a very low level of job security; it is relatively easy to fire workers. It is believed that it will create a dynamic and highly mobile job market. This has made it much easier for employees to access the labor market, as employers are not restricted by long notice periods. However, the working population was previously covered by a social security system with long periods and high wage replacement benefits; this was especially true for the low-wage sector when it was affected by unemployment. At the same time, the system provided access to training, giving the workforce new skills and educational opportunities. The state contributes both directly and indirectly to the financing of a significant part of the wage equalization payments, which in turn enabled it to implement regulations on availability assessments and compulsory work activities (Bengtsson 2015, p. 58).

It has been argued that the flexicurity model ensures a high level of labor flexibility, which in turn has contributed to growth and low unemployment. However, the model has come under increasing pressure in recent decades. There are cracks in the flexicurity model. The duration of benefits has been reduced from four to two years and the wage replacement benefit has decreased [5].

The welfare state from a historical point of view

The period from the Second World War to the beginning of the 1980s was shaped by the emergence and development of the welfare state. By 1964, a comprehensive state pension system was gradually introduced, in which everyone was entitled to a state-funded basic pension regardless of income or wealth.

In 1961, the state took over the previously unionized health insurance funds (sygekasser) and made them fully accessible to all employees insured in a health insurance fund. At the same time, all age and health criteria for inclusion in the system were abandoned. In 1970 the health insurance companies merged with the rehabilitation centers (revalidation centers) and the administration was transferred to the municipalities.

The unemployment insurance funds were retained. These are insurance systems in which the members pay a membership fee, but the actual payments are primarily financed by the state. After 1971, all entitlements (karensdage) were abolished, the unemployment insurance benefits were gradually increased so that they amounted to 90% (the maximum replacement benefit) of the income from the previous activity.

In 1964, the state instructed the municipalities to ensure the accessibility of childcare facilities and youth clubs. General child benefit was introduced in 1979. Single parents received higher child benefit, children of pensioners received special child benefit, etc. (Bundesen 2016, p. 162).

The emergence of the welfare state meant that more and more benefits and services were offered in general and independent of income and “means tests”. The public sector gained control of many social and health-related services, and at that time also took on much of the funding of these services (and benefits).

The welfare state since the 1980s

We have presented the latest developments in welfare state policy in the areas of labor market policy and senior citizens policy.

The general evolution of these policy changes can be summarized as follows:

  • Economic incentives are at the heart of many policy developments. This can be seen in the labor market, as previously described, but also more recently in the area of ​​family policy, where “family directives” (forældrepålæg) can lead to a reduction in family allowance (børnefamilieydelsen) if, for example, parents fail to attend parents' evenings in their local area To attend school.
  • A shift from “rights” to “obligations” when using services. This is particularly the case in the area of ​​employment policy, where applicants are obliged to attend certain compulsory courses in order to receive unemployment benefits. This is also evident in the increasing use of contracts and action plans (handle planners) in which wishes and demands are formulated on behalf of the citizens.
  • In connection with the second development, the expectations of the social clientele have changed. More emphasis is placed on their ability to "take responsibility for themselves". Citizens, for example, are increasingly expected to document their job search.
  • Greater differentiation from citizens who struggle with social problems. For example, if they lack the will and / or the ability to make changes. The client's motivation or the lack of such is increasingly the focus in many areas of social work. At the same time, the different types of services have increased significantly, which has developed from the endeavor to target the services specifically to subgroups.
  • New Public Management has been applied across the public sector in an attempt to manage and market social benefits. The ambition was to set priorities and ensure cost-efficient production of social services. However, it has been difficult to document the impact of marketing the social services and their ability to find economic solutions.
  • Street-level bureaucrats have seen an enormous increase in the requirements for documenting their work. Many control mechanisms have been put in place to monitor their work. This went hand in hand with the spread of standardized methods and instruments of social work. Some of these processes are described in more detail in the section on digitization.

On the theory and professional discourse of social work

In order to understand what characterizes the main theoretical and professional social work discourses in Denmark, it is necessary to show the structures from both historical and contemporary perspectives and to understand the organizations and social environments that shape knowledge about social work and influence.

The relationship between "the social" and "the scientific"

Historically, one of the basic requirements for the dissemination of scientific models of thought is that science produces universally verifiable knowledge and general conceptual definitions of reason and a logic of causality (Elias 2009, i Christensen et al. 2015). This is seen by many to be too narrow and potentially problematic for the study of the “social” and, more generally, for the humanities, where the subject fluctuates and evolves in a non-linear manner. Scientific traditions manifest themselves in different subject areas and different understandings of what the foundations of humanity are. This contrast has been described as the difference between the closed person (Homo Clausus) and the open person (Homo Aperti). The closed person is characterized by the fact that he is independent of others and has an independent ability to reason, during the open person is historically malleable and is constantly being reshaped through interaction with the environment (Christensen et al. 2015).

The following splitting has manifested itself in Denmark both within the structure of the universities and in the division of labor between universities and colleges (at least in Denmark):

  • Universities at which more traditional conceptions of science dominate
  • University colleges (or technical colleges) where the degrees focus on different professions (i.e. social workers, nurses, etc.) "of the social"

This differs from the practice in other parts of the world, such as Great Britain, Australia or Sweden, where social work is a university education.

Education and research in the field of social work in Denmark

In Denmark it means that the social work qualification is a higher education education which is historically taught in the so called “social high schools” together with other social professions like nurses, educators etc. Today, courses are offered at various universities across the country. Historically, the “social universities” had neither the right nor the duty to conduct research. Today research has become an integral part of the newly founded universities.

The training of social workers is characterized by a broad spectrum of different academic disciplines. Danish social work education encompasses four main areas: law, social and political science, psychology and social work (each with at least a master’s degree). University college courses are taught by assistant professors (adjuncts) and associate professors (lecturers). All courses at the university are taught by lecturers with a university background and with very different views of the “social”.

Social pedagogy was offered as a subject at one university - Aalborg University [6]. In the early 1990s, the social college in Copenhagen set up a research center that worked with Aalborg University. Together they started a part-time master's degree in social work.

In 1995 the first doctorate in social work was accepted (Uggerhøj 2005).

Social work as an independent field of research is therefore very young in Denmark. Research in this area is mainly done at this one university in Denmark with a Masters degree in Social Work. Today, however, so-called practical research is carried out at all universities. Universities are legally obliged to conduct research. But many of the research communities are relatively small and rely on collaboration with universities for larger research projects. University research must be accessible to a wider audience than the research community. According to the "Higher Education Act" [7] (own translation) §5:

  • “Vocational high schools [8] will, on the basis of their educational programs, carry out practical and application-oriented research and development activities in close cooperation with the relevant actors in the labor market, other educational and research institutions and the surrounding society.

    Section 2. The purpose of the research and development activities is to provide new knowledge and concrete solutions to challenges in the professions and occupational fields to which the university's programs are geared. "

This means that the universities also have knowledge of the practice develop and produce. Part of this knowledge consists in the selection and preparation of research for use in teaching and for the qualification of social work practice, e.g. in cooperation with specialists from social work.

Gaining knowledge in social work

We presented the most important research communities at universities and colleges in Denmark that are trying to advance the development of research-based knowledge relevant to social work. However, there are other important players in this area.

The gains in knowledge in social work and the role of the social worker are closely linked to the development of the welfare state in the 1960s and 1970s. To support the development of the welfare state, it was decided to supplement traditional university research with sectoral institutes, and in 1958 the Social Research Institute (SFI) was founded (now VIVE). Later the Institute for Local Government (AKF) was created (today merged with VIVE to form the Danish Center for Social Science Research).The aim was to support the state administration and politicians with research results, including surveys on living conditions. This type of research was thus located somewhere between universities and government administration and played a more direct role in policy development.

The development of new forms of knowledge in social work and about the role of the social worker is very closely linked to the emergence of the welfare state in the 1960s and 1970s. In order to support the development of the welfare state, it was decided to supplement traditional university research with sectoral research institutions. In 1958 the Social Research Institute (SFI) (later VIVE) and in 1975 the Institute for Local Government Studies (now part of VIVE) were established. The aim of these institutions was to provide the central administration and politicians with high quality research, e.g. research into the living conditions of different groups in Denmark. It was thus located between traditional, independent university research and more policy-oriented research within the state administration. Historically, it thus had a more direct influence on policy development.

The institutions mentioned are helping to implement research that is partially focused on the management and development of social work so that it can be as cost effective as possible. New Public Management (NPM) has been a dominant management philosophy in Denmark since the 1980s.

Another key actor is the National Council for Social Services, particularly in relation to the implementation of policies and new social methods, the introduction of best practices and the evaluation of various policies. This is clearly stated on their website:

“The National Board of Social Services is committed to developing the best available knowledge of effective methods and practices in the field of social work, and to imparting and disseminating this knowledge to ensure its application in practice. This is done through comprehensive advice to the municipalities, the Danish regions and individual citizens on questions of social work and by supporting the municipalities in the implementation of social methods and practices. In addition, the National Social Services Committee manages the national audit function with a view to overseeing local authorities in the social field.“Https://socialstyrelsen.dk/om-os/about-the-national-board-of-social-services

The last source of knowledge is generated in the communal environment, where local politicians and the local administration can gain valuable insights into the field of social work. This knowledge is characterized by the fact that it is very dynamic and depends heavily on certain organizational structures within which knowledge is generated. Within these structures, efficiency and a well-founded approach are the central prerequisites for developing social work. In this area, knowledge is derived from experience and different learning areas.

These types of knowledge can be illustrated in the following model:

(Rasmussen I Christensen et al. 2015, p. 143)

Understanding these four types of knowledge is crucial in trying to understand the basis of theoretical and professional debates in the social work field.

The vertical axis includes education and research as one element and professional training and practice as the other. The ideal contained in this axis is the long-term accumulation of knowledge, qualifications and skills in social work. The aim here is the development of qualified social work. A professional ethic is also derived from this dimension.

In doing so, research tries to understand the causes of social problems. Furthermore, research in this area aims to examine how social problems arise and develop and what types of social interventions are necessary to support the affected group.

Theories and specialist discourse are embedded in an interdisciplinary field and a different degree of civic engagement in the choice of interventions (Hart 2008), which in turn shapes the design of social work in everyday life.

The horizontal axis represents the public institutions that are responsible for performing different types of social work. The ideal contained in this axis focuses on the short-term ability how new knowledge can be used to transform social work now.

The horizontal axis covers three different specialist discourses:

  1. The first discourse revolves around the development and implementation of evidence-based social methods. The National Board of Social Services has been a driving force in funding such efforts. The approach focuses on developing methods of social work that are “scalable” so that “best practices” can be shared in different organizational contexts. The development of new methods of social work takes place in cooperation with local communities and / or consulting firms and university colleges.
  2. The second discourse revolves around the transfer of evidence-based methods of social work from other countries. This was done with the 'The incredible years' method (The incredible years, founded by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington), the 'Signs of Safety' approach (originated in Australia and was developed by Andrew Turnell and Steve Edwards) and finally the Family Group Conference (originally developed in New Zealand). These social work methods have often been patented and social workers must therefore undergo a certification process in order to use this method.
  3. The third discourse is based on various municipalities that are involved in the development of new methods of social work. These local projects draw inspiration from both national and international methods of social work, but try to adapt them to their local context and special needs.

All three discourses are characterized by the endeavor to steer and control the quality of social work so that it is possible to document the effects of various interventions. In addition, the aim was to make complex social issues more manageable. The above methods primarily focus on engaging parents in developing new childcare options. These methods of social work are based on cognitive behavioral theories and systems theories.

Social work is therefore positioned between two competing perceptions of scientific knowledge: a perception that values ​​objective, evidence-based expert knowledge. And another, which is more based on a more open understanding of knowledge production in the field of social work. The first view arose (at least in Denmark) in connection with the introduction of New Public Management. The second perspective has older historical roots in the field of social work and draws on a broad spectrum of scientific traditions: qualitative and discursive approaches are among the most widespread today (Christensen et al 2015).

These conflicting notions of knowledge and science shape the current debates about social work and the empirical basis of its current professional practice.

Digitization, the Danish welfare state and social work

A. Digitization and the Danish welfare state

Denmark has pursued a comprehensive digitization strategy over the past thirty years and has consistently been number 1 in digitization in the European Union since 2014 (Hjelholt & Schou 2017: 13). Behind this achievement are three decades of successive Danish governments' efforts to adopt and use new digital technologies. The following section describes the historical developments in three different periods: the first from 1993 to 2001, the second from 2001 to 2016. The chapter concludes with a brief overview of the main debates in Danish research on the effects of digitization on administration at the municipal level.

B. The digitization of the Danish welfare state from a historical perspective

From 1993 to 2001 the government's digital policy was placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology (Forsknings- og teknologiministeriet) (Hjelholt & Schou 2017: 57). The second phase began in 2001 when digitization was repositioned under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance, which later founded and ran the Agency for Digitization in 2011 [9]. Since 2017 and until today (2019), the digitization of parliament and government institutions has received a lot of attention. In 2018, the Danish Parliament passed a bill that ordered all new laws to be checked to see if they were digital-friendly. Digitization has become an integral part of the legislative and political agenda.

Phase I: 1993-2001 digitization under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology

E-government began in Denmark in the early 1990s (Jæger & Löfgren 2010: 254), even if earlier forms of information technology, such as punch cards, were already in use at the beginning of the 20th century (Johansson 2004: 141).

In 1993 the Ministry of Finance handed over responsibility for IT developments to the newly established Ministry of Science and Technology (Forsknings- og teknologiministeriet). Since then, information technology (IT) has received more political attention (Johansson 2004: 153). Inspired by other countries, the Danish government commissioned a report to outline the future role of IT in Denmark (Johansson 2004: 153). The report emphasized the importance of IT for future economic development and competitiveness (Johansson 2004: 153). The report also identified a number of areas where IT was seen as important: IT should support democracy, improve public participation, meet the needs of marginalized groups, and so on. These broad societal goals went much further than these Government approaches to digitization in the early days of e-government (Johansson 2004: 152). The report also stressed that the Danish public sector should play a leading role in promoting the efficient use of IT (Johansson 2004: 153).

In connection with the increased political attention, a number of IT initiatives have been launched at government and community level (Johansson 2004: 157). The first efforts were made by various actors in various government and community institutions. In the initial phase of digitization, several public institutions carried out various types of bottom-up experiments (Jæger & Löfgren 2010: 263).

Phase II: 2001-2016 digitization under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance

In 2001, digitization was returned to the Ministry of Finance and the focus shifted to efficiency (Johansson 2004: 165). During the 2000s, digitization was seen primarily as a means of curbing public spending (Jæger & Löfgren 2010: 267). Efficiency, flexibility and quality have become key words that guide the digitization process (Hjelholt & Schou 2017: 47-48).

The Agency for Digitization was founded in 2011 under the direction of the Ministry of Finance. The agency has a central coordination function in the digitization process (Kjeldsen & Høybye-Mortensen 2019: 299). The agency later described its function as “a unified coordinator of the common public digitization and engine of the digital society of the future” (Digitaliseringsstyrelsen 2018: 3, quoted in Kjeldsen & Høybye-Mortesen 2019: 299). This fits in with the process described above, in which the entire digitization process in the 1990s moved from a “decentralized” and “governance” -based process to an increasingly centralized and controlled measure under the leadership of the Ministry of Finance (Jæger & Löfgren 2010). Economic efficiency and the reduction of public spending through digitization are still cornerstones of the current digitization strategy of the public sector (Kjeldsen & Høybe-Mortesen 2019: 299).

The following section describes the latest developments and issues that will be of central importance for the discussion about digitization and the future welfare state.

C. Digitization and 'street-level bureaucracy'

This section outlines three key issues that have emerged in recent research and that are relevant to the question of how digitization, mainly the automation of processes, affects the street-level bureaucracy 1) Digitization and the law 2 ) Digitization and organizational dynamics.

I. Digitization and the law

'Street-level bureaucracy' is being reshaped by the possible effects of digitization on legal norms. Both Professor Dr. Jur. Niels Fenger and associate professor Hanne Motzfelt ask a number of questions about the effects of digitization on current legal practice (Fenger 2013, Motzfeldt 2015). Two developments in particular will determine how digitization will affect the legal practice of street-level bureaucrats. One concerns the way in which the law is formulated to address digitization, digital automation and itself robot-assisted process automation to facilitate (RPA). Digitization in the form of RPA places new demands on legal texts and their degree of 'mathematical' precision (Fenger 2013: 30f). Mathematical precision in the sense that digital automation requires a number of objective criteria against which documents and / or applications can be checked. SU, the Danish student grant and loan program, is an example of a service that uses automation in the application review process (Hundebøl & Sørensen 2018: 7). The existing legal infrastructure is easily suitable for automation here, since the right to SU is determined by a number of objective criteria. This example illustrates how digitization depends on a specific legal infrastructure. The requirements of digital automation could influence the legal language in new laws. Developments in this area are of great importance to social workers in Denmark as they have some discretion in exercising their legal powers.

This trend can be seen in one of the most recent and very significant developments. In 2018, all political parties reached another political agreement that creates a framework for reviewing the “digitalization friendliness” of new laws (Finansministeriet 2018). It was decided that all new draft laws should be reviewed according to seven “digitization-friendly” criteria [10]. The framework provides the ministries with a series of checklists with which they can check whether a draft law is “digitally friendly” (Digitaliseirngsstyrelsen 2018). Bills are examined by the “Secretariat for Digitally Usable Laws”, which examines the status of the digitally applicable bills and assesses questions with regard to future implementation [11]. This political agreement could herald a major change in the legal framework. However, the political agreement is too new to assess the impact on legislation. In addition, the legislative framework also stipulates that certain legal decisions cannot be easily reconciled with objective criteria (Digitaliseringsstyrelsen 2018: 12). Future research will need to review the implementation and impact of the agreement on new laws.

Another area of ​​particular interest for the legal practice of social workers is the question of how the general procedural requirements of the law interact with new digital developments (Motzfeldt 2015: 8). The digital infrastructure, which is now helping many actors at the local level, could reshape the way the law regulates interaction with citizens. Danish citizens enjoy a number of procedural rights; the right to be consulted (partshøring), the right to be involved in the proceedings (medvirkenskravet), the right to advice, to name just a few.For example, when a citizen's application is examined by an RPA, social workers are unable to take a more holistic approach as provided for in social law because they are not in direct contact with citizens stand. How these rights interact with digitization and automation is of central interest to future caseworkers, as this could change the interaction between citizens and the welfare state.

II. Digitization and dynamics of the organizational structure

Another new debate relevant to the professionals is the impact of digitization on the organizational dynamics and hierarchies. Digitization may introduce a new class of data analysts who are positioned between management and social workers (Pedersen & Wilkinson 2018). The current structure of instructions and the prevailing division of labor are particularly challenging. A study indicates that data-driven decision-making processes pose a number of different organizational challenges (Høebye-Mortensen & Ejbye-Ernst 2018). Two problems are briefly discussed here:

  1. the acquisition and management of data
  2. the use and evaluation of data.

The study found that: "Those who enter data (clerks) and collect data (administrative staff) are not the same people as those who use them (managers)" (Høebye-Mortensen & Ejbye-Ernst 2018: 32). Organizational structures convey and transform the collected data, since everyone involved has a different assessment of the meaning of the data. The administrative staff could therefore have a completely different view of the meaning of the data than the clerks who collect the data. In addition, managers could misjudge the reliability and / or validity of the data collected if they lack an in-depth understanding of data collection by clerks and data processing by administrative staff. The acquisition of data and the introduction of data-driven administration lead to a new organizational dynamic. Dynamics that deserve more attention in future research.

Digitization and the future of social work

Digitization will have an impact on social work in various areas. Some claim that digitization enables data-driven administration (DDM) to a degree that, under certain conditions, replaces the implicit knowledge of specialists (Pedersen & Wilkinson 2018: 7). Tacit knowledge has so far been seen as a central feature of social work. If this dimension is displaced by digitization, the professional self-image of the role of social workers could change radically. However, attempts to automate certain elements of family ministry in the United States also show that existing IT assessment tools are associated with significant risks (Eubanks 2017). Digital assessment tools can also influence the social workers' assessment of problems. This is very problematic when the program's selection criteria for this assessment remain opaque to social workers. If the program evaluates problems using statistical patterns, it could end up reproducing pre-existing inequalities or based on biased perceptions in society (O'Neil 2017).

Another key question concerns the limits of automation. Because this is partly a political and legal issue as well, because much of the automation depends on a specific legal infrastructure, as previously described. But even in cases where the law could be easily enforced, people are not just needed to set up and review the program. In some cases, case officers or administrative staff can be the workaround when the program lacks information or is unable to handle the case for any reason. A study of an already automated decision-making tool to assess whether students are eligible for the SU [12] showed that administrative staff are needed to complement the automated program because it makes mistakes or a certain situation or information fails understand (Hundebøl & Sørensen 2018). So while the RPA will most likely replace some administrative chores, in many cases it will likely still require administrative staff to oversee and supplement it.

Finally, efforts in Denmark to make public services and applications increasingly available via Internet platforms are associated with considerable costs. Many disadvantaged groups have great difficulty accessing and navigating the public platforms available on the Internet. A research project found that many of them needed the support of social workers (Hjelholt & Schou 2017). Social workers may have to overcome new dividing lines between those who have the necessary access and skills and those who experience this new world of digital platforms as stressful and stressful.

The consequences of digitization for social work depend on a large number of political, legal, organizational and technical factors. The decisive factor then is who can shape the creation, design and implementation of the digital infrastructure in the welfare state? This is a key question because different actors will judge the value of a new digital infrastructure in very different ways.

The future challenges for the Danish welfare state

The Danish welfare state will have to face a number of challenges in the future. We have presented three fields of possible political disputes about the future welfare state in Denmark.


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Anette Nielsen
Associate professor, UC SYD, Denmark
Educational background: Social worker and Master in Social Integration, Aarhus University
+4572662512, mobile: 45 72662518
[email protected]
www.nvie.dk, www.ucsyd.dk

Jørn Henrik Enevoldsen
Associate professor, UC SYD. Denmark
Educationel background: Cand.scient.pol., Aarhus University
Phone: +45 7266 2950
E-mail: [email protected]

Samuel Pedersen Jones
Associate professor, UC SYD
Educational background: cand.scient.soc, Copenhagen University
Phone: +45 7266 2970
E-mail: [email protected]


[1] In Denmark, the public sector is divided into three sectors: a state, a regional and a municipal sector.

[2] This system enables employed persons and students to voluntarily join a state-recognized unemployment insurance fund (A-fund). This gave you at least two years of unemployment benefit (and, under certain conditions, you can get up to three years). This benefit is independent of family assets.

[3] The Restitution Act regulates how municipalities are subsidized by the state through various economic incentives.

[4] The measure can be organized by the municipality or carried out by an external partner.

[5] Læs mere om den danske flexicurity model i: Bengtsson, Tea m.fl. (2015). The Danish Welfare State A sociological Investigation. Palgrave Macmillan.

[6] Historically, there have been two social work degrees in higher education, but one of the two degrees was phased out in the 1980s.

[7] "Bekendtgørelse af lov om professionshøjskoler"

[8] Referred to as university colleges in the text.

[9] Before 1993, the Treasury Department had managed digital policy.

[10]1) Simple, clear rules 2) Digital communication 3) Possibility of automated case processing 4) Uniformity between the authorities - uniform concepts and reuse of data 5) Secure and protected data processing 6) Use of public infrastructure 7) Prevention of fraud and errors (agreement on digital legislation 2018)

[11] https://en.digst.dk/policy-and-strategy/digital-ready-legislation/secretariat-for-digital-ready-legislation/

[12] SU - The Danish scholarship and loan program for students. Everyone over the age of 18 studying in Denmark is entitled to public support.

Suggested citation
Nielsen, Anette, Jørn Henrik Enevoldsen and Samuel Pedersen Jones, 2020. Country portrait Denmark. In: socialnet International [on-line]. June 5th, 2020 [accessed on: May 20th, 2021]. ISSN 2627-6348. Available at: https://www.socialnet.de/international/daenemark.html