Groups see emergence of 'new poor'

Charity organisations are being contacted by needy families year round - not just during the traditional donation month of December

Imagine saving up for a movie ticket, or being unable to afford to sign your child up for football. According to the chairman of the National Council for the Socially Disadvantaged, this is the face of Denmark's "new poor."

Today's marginalised families are typically welfare-dependent, single parent and immigrant families. Many subsist on less than DKK 2000 per month once bills are paid.

In recent years, these needy families have increasingly turned to aid organisations during the holiday season for Christmas care packages. The Salvation Army and National Children's Office deliver more Christmas care packages than any other charity group in the country. Packages were sent this year to 7,900 disadvantaged families around the country.

"Just five years ago, we only ever saw this group in December. We now have a entire group of people living on so little that there is literally no money for extras," said Salvation Army information director Lars Lydholm.

Church Army Denmark and the National Children's Office have also noticed that it's gotten tougher to be poor in Denmark.

"It's hard to say whether the poorest people really are struggling more. But that's certainly the impression we have. A new group of impoverished people is emerging, but it hasn't been scientifically documented," said Preben Brandt, chairman of the National Council for the Socially Disadvantaged.

In response, the Salvation Army has expanded its aid services year-round, with summer camps, fall holiday and winter vacation camps for children. The National Children's Office, Salvation Army and Church Army Denmark have all begun including more activities as part of their Christmas care packages, as leisure is something needy families must do without on a daily basis.

"These families have very little, and they can't lead any kind of proper life. But they can see that the rest of us have more money to take part in cultural activities, travel and pay babysitters," said Brandt.

Speaking with Jyllands-Posten today, Brandt offered his take on responding to the challenges presented by Denmark's "new poor."

"It's important not to address the problem with donations alone. We need to find a way to take this group into account through legislation - for example, on the job market. We need to ensure that the job market also has a place for people who aren't as productive," said Brandt.

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