Nordic Welfare Watch - keeping an eye on the vulnerable during crises - NVC
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Nordic Welfare Watch - keeping an eye on the vulnerable during crises

The first thing the new Icelandic government did in February 2009 was to establish a Welfare Watch, which monitored the social and economic impact the financial crisis of autumn 2008 had on the population of Iceland. Research shows that Iceland came out strong from the crisis - without vulnerable groups coming to harm. The motto was that “nobody shall be left out”. This model is relevant to the entire Nordic region, according to the scientific journal, Nordic Welfare Research, which debuts with its first issue today.

Nordic Welfare Research is a scientific journal published by Norwegian publishing house, Universitetsforlaget, on commission by the Nordic Welfare Centre. Nordic Welfare Reseach will issue two publications per year. Research contributions look at Nordic welfare issues and contain original research contributions written in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and English. Publication in the journal is meritorious and all articles are peer reviewed, meaning that they are reviewed by researchers outside the editorial team.

The 5 countries in the Nordic region, namely Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, along with the autonomous territories of the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland account for 26.5 million people. A common feature of the entire region is that we have built extensive welfare societies. This will be reflected in the new scientific journal.

The first issue will look at the topic inequality in healthcare. One of the articles, entitled “All’s well in Iceland” is about how Iceland met and handled a major crisis. The result was a model that could spread throughout the Nordic region.

The welfare model holds up under crisis

The Icelandic experience of the financial crisis of 2008 clearly demonstrated the need for society to mobilise and organise information on how individuals and families are affected by a crisis, and for an early warning function of sorts when something goes wrong. The Welfare Watch became a platform involving voluntary organisations, researchers, municipalities, the authorities and the labour market. The job of the Welfare Watch was to monitor the social and financial impact based on social indicators that were drawn up.  The indicators were measuring points, and based on these the Welfare Watch could assess measures and activities. The Welfare Watch also put forward proposals on new measures to politicians and decision-makers, and had an ongoing dialogue with the Icelandic Government and Parliament of the time.

Protection factor

The article ”All’s well in Iceland”, by Geir Gunnlaugsson and Jonina Einarsdottir, shows that our very model of society in the Nordic region, the welfare model, acts as a protection factor in itself. Despite deficits, downsizing and crisis Iceland could sustain the basic welfare functions within the social and healthcare area. In this way society’s most vulnerable were protected.

Keep the unemployed active

Unemployment rose and the strategy of Iceland was to extend unemployment benefits to unemployed individuals while they studied. The overall aim was to keep the unemployed active, all in order to avoid the negative health effects of long-term unemployment. Today, the unemployment rate is at the same level as prior to the crisis, and Iceland is attracting foreign labour to its expanding tourist industry.

Research shows that a robust welfare system, which is already in place before a crisis hits, and policies that aim to minimise the negative impact of a crisis are what protect a nation from the negative consequences of a financial collapse. The article makes a comparison with Greece - a country that fell into a deep financial crisis without a welfare system to back it up. There the vulnerability of the people has been greater than in Iceland and recovery has not been as clear to see.

Read the whole article in the Nordic Welfare Research journal

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