Norwegian poverty

A Rumanian beggar in the shopping strreet of my home town.
A Rumanian beggar in the shopping strreet of my home town. Soon it could be us.

I heard on the county news a few days ago that there are more children growing up in poor families than ever before, and organizations like the Salvation Army hand out more food for the Christmas holiday. This is a growing problem, and if you google this in Norwegian you get articles back to at least 2011. Norwegians frequently refer to their country as one of the richest in the world, and it is, so it may surprise many that we have poverty.

It depends on your definition, but the authorities say that if your income is 50 percent (or less) of the median income you are considered poor, while the EU set it to 60 percent. However, there are no poor people in Norway if you go by the World Bank definition (1,25 USD a day), but according to the EU-definition 10 percent of the population is poor, which is about 520 000 people.

It is significant when poverty is going up in my county (Rogaland) because this is where the oil industry and most of its subcontractors are based, and this industry is struggling at the moment. This part of the country hasn’t been hit that badly by the recession before, but we have felt it the last couple of years. I have written about a move towards a colder society with less solidarity in previous posts. I have a feeling that some people have regarded Norway as something of a utopia, like the US press when it has described Norway as a socialist country that really knows how to take care of its citizens. I believe Norway is one of the most charmed societies to live in, but utopia doesn’t exist. The truth is that although our unitary state has a strong central government, similar to what you find in a socialist country, the authorities don’t really focus on a fair distribution of the resources.

A box on the grocery store where customers can leave food.
A box on the grocery store where customers can leave food.

I have always heard about poor families, and the Salvation Army have collected money for the poor for a 100 years. They usually do this themselves, but I discovered a box at one of the neighbourhood grocery stores yesterday. Customers are invited to buy food and leave it in this box, and Spar will give it to the Salvation Army. This will be given to families that can’t afford anything special for Christmas, and there are also some that can’t afford the ordinary either. This is a great initiative, but the fact that this is necessary points to some serious problems. The churches and other organizations have usually been able to help, but I think we are going to see bigger problems than we have seen so far. I think we have seen signs of less solidarity for a while, but if poverty is increasing, there will also be fewer people that can offer to help others. This has traditionally been something families and churches did. Churches were not just a place for preaching and praying (theory), but the congregation was a useful resource in many ways. It helped parents teach their children how to become good citizens, and if they needed financial support, or some other services, the church could offer it.

I don’t know if we are already seeing the result, but as I have pointed out in previous posts about the Syrian refugee crisis altruism isn’t free. This is a sacrificial attitude that almost requires us to lose something. It has to cost, and I don’t think the press was realistic at all when it criticised the government for not opening the borders to everyone, while they still wanted the same standard of living and free services from the government. Increased immigration probably means increased poverty. The Progressive Party is by many foreigners called a far right-wing party and the minister of immigration is frequently compared to Trump, Hitler and Goebbels. I don’t think that’s quite fair because Jens Stoltenberg, the previous Prime Minister, said exactly the same. He was just as determined to send back people he didn’t think had the right to stay here, including 450 children that had been born and raised in Norway. There is a lot to be said about the populists in the Progressive Party, but they never try to hide their true feelings.

Norway hasn’t suddenly become a colder society. We have had ample opportunity to practice solidarity towards our own as well as the refugees. It’s interesting that no one talks about the Christians in Syria (about 10 percent of the population), Egypt (11 percent), Iraq (6 percent) and Jordan (4 percent). They have been there since Jesus founded Christianity, but now they are slowly but surely being eradicated from the Middle East.

Regarding Christmas, I wrote about the angel tree last year. This is a nice American tradition where they collect gifts for children that don’t get any. Read about it on the Salvation Army Central Arkansas-site. That’s a tradition I think many countries should start, and the way things are going in Norway, I think we need it here too.

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