Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Recent Social Legislation

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Recent Social Legislation

Several of the above-described measures were adopted for the special benefit of the lower classes of the community. Where prices were not directly fixed, it was attempted to limit profits from sales. A note of February 1, 1917. prohibited exploitation of the opportunities created by the war, and provided that goods were not to be sold at a higher price than that previously current, if the increased price could not be proved due to the increased expenses for the seller in connexion with the manufacture, purchase, or costs of the goods. It prevented articles which passed through several hands from being sold at more than the original price, thus prohibiting profits by middlemen as far as the transfer from one seller to another might involve an apparent reason for an increase in the price. Other means of limiting profits were devised through the many new taxes established during the last years of the war, as will be shown later.

In view of the stringent need of the lower classes the municipalities were authorized to spend considerable sums for their relief; and the state also made considerable grants. The acts of December 22, 1915, December 28, 1916, and December 21, 1917, authorized gifts of money through the Municipal Relief Funds and other institutions such as the recognized Unemployment Funds, as well as reductions in the price of food and fuel for the whole population and especially for the poor.

The condition of the unemployed was considered. The number of unemployed increased especially on account of the unrestricted submarine war, and they must be helped. The act of 1914 relating to Unemployment Funds had provided that the members should have passed through a period of carene, no support being given to a workman until he had been a subscribing member for at least twelve months. This provision was temporarily suspended by an act of October 27, 1917, and much relief was thereby rendered possible. Eventual provisions that an unemployed member should receive relief only at certain periods of the year, or after a certain waiting time, were also suspended. A labourer could now be entitled to support even if he had work on four days of the week. Extra sums were paid through the Unemployment Societies to their members in addition to the statutory relief, or as relief extended beyond the time fixed in the statute. A considerable additional sum is now fixed, so that members who pay regular premiums receive at least 1.75 kroner ($0.47) a day from the combined sources. The unemployed, on certain conditions, also receive help in paying their rent, and further sums are allowed under special circumstances by the Municipal Relief Fund, e. g. if they have several children, if they are in ill health, or if they have heavy debts. This act was superseded by a new one of February 8, 1918 (to remain in force until June 30, 1918 later prolonged to the end of November), which made still better provision for the unemployed, raising the minimum relief to 2.75 kroner ($0.74) a day for full subscribing members with families to support. That the unemployed thus received a considerable amount of support is apparent from the provision that the daily sum should not exceed three-fourths of the current daily wage, not including assistance toward the payment of the rent, support from the Municipal Relief Fund, or a share in the relief measures taken by the municipality, pursuant to the act, for all inhabitants of the municipality or for those whose incomes were under a certain sum. It is the state which in the first instance will have to bear the burden in conjunction with these measures. Again, a new provisional act was issued on July 1, 1918, which in no wise altered the principles of the previous one; on the contrary, it increased the state grants. But between the lines we can read an admission of its own shortcomings, since it provides for the appointment of a committee to make proposals for amending the act, it being presumed and that is indeed characteristic that in cases where the support received through the Unemployment Societies is inadequate for the support of a workman's family, the deficit must be made good from the Municipal Relief Funds.

By all this legislation Denmark posits, clearly the right of the citizen to exist. This principle has been so far recognized by all civilized countries that they acknowledge as a duty the establishment of a Poor Relief System. But in most countries the relief given through such a medium involves certain limitations of political rights; and, moreover, it is generally rather small. No such limitation, however, is attached to the legislation described, where, indeed, help has recently been given so freely that the unemployed workman is under no great inducement to return to work. The Act of February 8, 1918, was intended to create such inducement by providing that the aid given must not be so great as not to give the workman real economic interest to obtain work. But such a law naturally does not form any bulwark against an army of non-workers, and many complaints have been made of the abuse of its provisions. It is not surprising that a workman, who has a weekly wage of 28 kroner and who is consequently entitled to 21 kroner weekly in the form of unemployment support, is not tempted to return to all-day labour for a paltry 7 kroner more by taking employment but prefers to receive unemployment support and then perhaps supply his income by some odd work which is outside the control. A case in point recently came before the Unemployment Council. A member of an unemployment society in the neighbourhood of Copenhagen refused to accept a permanent position because on some days of the week he could earn 12 to 14 kroner per day; he therefore refused the position offered and demanded support from his society for the days on which he had no work. The council, however, decided against him.

To prevent such misuse of funds a new act was issued on November 30, 1918 (to remain in force until the end of 1919), whereby the conditions for receiving help were made more strict. Control of the unemployment societies over their members was increased, and attempts were made to bring about a closer co-operation with the public employment offices. In addition to the current aid, 2 kroner per day during the winter and 1.5 kroner per day during the five summer months are now granted to each householder, and assistance toward the rent is a little more liberal. But the source of the difficulty does not seem to have been reached. Still the thought seems to find expression in the new act, that a duty to work ought to be attached to the right of existence; but on this point there will doubtless be much argument before its rationality is made clear.

The founding of unemployment societies on the basis created by earlier legislation was a long step in the direction of help to self-help; but in using the unemployment societies as the institutions through which to make government grants legislation unwisely followed the line of least resistance. Through the use of the existing institutions as examining boards and as treasuries their significance as insurance societies became vague, and their position will be difficult when normal conditions are restored.

Future historians will certainly see in the Danish use of the unemployment funds during the present period of high prices a reflection of the English Allowance System of the eighteenth century, which Malthus attacked so vigorously. Just as that system aimed to give the unemployed workman the minimum necessary for his existence, the present Danish system aims to give him an income up to a certain limit. In this connexion it is interesting to note that, according to the act, a workman who is willing to accept unaccustomed work outside his own trade may receive from the fund a temporary addition to obtain the wage which is customary for the workman of that time when he, on account of failing practice, can not earn this wage by his work.