On a great Norwegian Expression, Government Spending and Refugees.

Image from http://luftdesignfabrikken.blogspot.no/

Image from http://luftdesignfabrikken.blogspot.no/

So, there’s this really great Norwegian expression that I can’t seem to find the equivalent of in the English language, it is “å spare seg til fant”. The expression is somewhat difficult to translate, but it roughly means that saving money (where one should not have), might in the long term end up doing more damage than good. And, it couldn’t be more fitting when the topic at hand is government spending.

A few disclaimers at the outset:

Don’t get me wrong; Norway is an ok country. It is not the paradise Michael Moore and others have painted it out to be, but I love my home-country. It is beautiful and its social institutions have served me well. Its’ Gini-coefficient  is low, which means that compared to many other countries, inequality is not a huge problem. Our HDI (Human Development Index) ranking is sky-high. We come out almost on top in terms of women’s’ rights, and unemployment is fairly low. But, it is far from ideal, and with a right-wing government in place, we’re certainly not heading in the right direction. Securing a job if you don’t have a network is very difficult (unless you are in the 1% in terms of education). Favouritism and nepotism are considerable problems, where those who get the great jobs aren’t necessarily the best suited (sometimes they’re outright incompetent, but just happen to have the right connections). And, “disobedience” (in terms of not towing the company-line, whether the company line is right or wrong) or whistle-blowing can be (and has been) severely punished.

Back to the point. When seeing how resources/government funding over the past few years has been (and currently is being) allocated in Norway, the expression “å spare seg til fant” immediately springs to mind. I am also  left with the feeling that choices in budget-cuts (at several important institutions) were deliberate, and aimed at those who have the least power in society (somehow, we don’t see major cuts in areas where the population has more available resources).

The cuts I am most concerned about involve resources made available to refugees and immigrants. Norway, similarly to many other countries, receives a fair number of migrants. Some come here to work (mostly other Europeans; Norway’s EEA-membership allows citizens of EU-countries to live and work in Norway), but a substantial number come as refugees. To get gainful employment in Norway, most (almost all) employers require employees to be proficient in the Norwegian language. And this proficiency is measurable. In fact, there exists a Common European Framework of Reference for Languages where an individuals’ command of a language is assessed according to level. Level A1 is the beginner level; A2 is slightly more advanced, and so it goes, all the way up to C2. At B1 level, you’re considered an “independent user”, which means you can navigate society and you can also read, write and understand the language well. B1 is furthermore the level required to get a steady job.

Getting to level B1 is no easy task, and it is particularly difficult for some. Those who have a first-language that differs greatly from the target language, those who are monolingual, those who do not have a great deal of school background and those who are ‘older’ usually have a much harder time at it. And some, understandably so, never get there. In terms of time-frame, I consider it an notable accomplishment when people are able to get to B1-level in 2 years (and that’s with about 20 hours of lessons a week), and anything less than that, is outright impressive.

Adult refugees are given a 2 year window (almost regardless of background, age and so forth) to finish a “introduction-program” in which they will be attending language classes, learning about Norwegian society, and in short, will receive the necessary help to get settled in Norway.

Now, Our current Conservative Prime minister, Erna Solberg, has on several occasions stated that it is essential to know the language in order to actively partake in Norwegian society, and integration minister Solveig Horne (a real piece of work that one..) has been vocal about how refugees living in Norway have to make a greater effort to become integrated in Norwegian society. All the while, the funding towards Norwegian language classes aimed at the refugees and migrants is clearly lacking. Several schools have had to cut back on school hours pr. week, not because money has been mismanaged (the resources available to these classes are considerable less than to other educational institutions) but because the programs have been underfunded for a looong time.  I’d love to hear Solberg and Horne explain how  refugees are to fulfill their demands, given the current situation. I bet there’d be a lot of squirming and awkwardness involved, 

When we’re talking funding and money, the lack of funding to language education will undoubtedly cost far more in the long-term than than what it saves in the short-term. Our social system is such that if you are unable to support yourself, you will receive at least some help. So, if a refugee is unable to secure a job because of lacking command of the Norwegian language, he or she will receive welfare. This means that the longer it takes said refugee to learn Norwegian, the more it will cost the government. Keep in mind that the welfare-spendings alone are costly, but the bureaucracy involved (think case-workers, payroll-employees etc) is in a whole different league altogether. If we then start adding the cost of lost tax-revenue, we’re looking at very large sums. Most refugees (99% of those I have met and worked with) want nothing more than a job, but with fewer hours in class pr. week, it will take them a looong time to get there. 

How’s that for “å spare seg til fant”?

This doesn’t take into account the human factor; the psychological implications of going for years trying to learn a difficult language. The feeling of not being allowed to contribute to society. The feeling of exclusion (remember those times you have travelled to countries in which you didn’t understand the language? It is difficult when your stay is limited to one or two weeks, but it is soul-crushing when it spans months and years). Nevermind having the knowledge that you can’t help your children with their homework, and you don’t understand the letters they bring home from school.

Curiously, at the same time, those in power seem to have no qualms taking fairly substantial pay-increases, even though the economy in their particular district is at a low-point. How about this Mayor who received an almost 10% raise this year? Does he really need a raise of 85000 NOK? (in excess of 10.000 USD). Keep in mind that he already has a salary that sits at well over 100.000 USD a year, so somehow I doubt he’s hurting. Now, not only did he get a substantial raise himself, he also proposed that his colleague should get an raise of 12,2%, that is, a raise of 136000 (about 17000 USD).

I bet that money could be put to better use elsewhere…

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