Opinion: Danmarks Indsamling is admirable, but what about the causes of poverty?

The purpose of Denmark’s largest televised charity event, Danmarks Indsamling, is to raise money “to help people in some of the poorest countries in the world to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” Peter Kenworthy discusses whether the causes of poverty should be given more attention through the event.

Opinion: Danmarks Indsamling is admirable, but what about the causes of poverty?
Danmarks Indsamling in 2014. Photo: Christian Liliendahl/Ritzau Scanpix

On February 2nd, annual charity event Danmarks Indsamling culminates with a large show on Danish national television. Before and during the show, 12 of the largest Danish humanitarian NGOs that run the event try to raise as much money as possible – this year in aid of poor and vulnerable girls worldwide.

Danmarks Indsamling focuses particularly on contributing to the six first UN Sustainable Development Goals. Amongst other things, these goals attempt to facilitate the end to world poverty, hunger, and epidemics such as AIDS, TB and malaria, as well as secure clean drinking water, gender equality and primary education for all.

Last year, 1.5 million Danes saw an array of politicians, businesses, celebrities and ordinary Danes raise money for homeless children in poor countries.

Humanitarian aid is necessary in a world where 800 million people are chronically malnourished, where inequality is on the rise, and where Danish development aid is either cut or used to promote Danish interests, in accordance with the Danish government’s development strategy.

Last year, Danmarks Indsamling managed to raise 78 million Danish kroner (10 million euros). But viewed against the Danish government’s 500 million kroner development aid cuts in 2014, and the fact that development aid as a percentage of GDP is now at its lowest level in 30 years, this is less remarkable.

Besides, development aid is more or less a case of symptomatic treatment if we don’t focus on and try to understand the causes of poverty and change its basic conditions, something that is demonstrably not high on the agenda during Danmarks Indsamling.

Because without understanding the underlying reasons for poverty, it becomes impossible to demand changes to things like unfair trade practices or the tax avoidance of large multinational corporations, which amounts to more than the total foreign development aid given to poor countries.

The target of UN Sustainable Development Goal 4.7 is to “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development,” including knowledge about human rights, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity.

But according to an annual Ministry of Foreign Affairs poll, only a third of all Danes believe that they have any sufficient degree of knowledge of development aid or the conditions in poor countries, and under half believe that development aid actually works.

Perhaps the 12 organisations behind Danmarks Indsamling should use some of the massive attention on development issues on February 2nd to ensure that the Danish population is better equipped to understand the causes of poverty and the goals of the UN sustainable Development Goals that the charity event is trying to help bring about?

Sociologist and journalist Peter Kenworthy is a contributing author to “African Awakening: The emerging revolutions”. He has worked for several Danish NGOs in Africa, as a communications officer for a municipality, as a journalist for Danish newspapers and as a freelance journalist for Danish and international magazines and newspapers. He also has a teaching degree and has worked at several schools.


READ ALSO: Former Danish PM didn't 'save the children'

For members


Why are record numbers in Denmark asking for charity help this Christmas?

More people than ever before have asked the Danish Red Cross for help this Christmas.

Why are record numbers in Denmark asking for charity help this Christmas?
Another charity in Denmark, Frelsens Hær, handing out Christmas packages in 2017. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Ritzau Scanpix

The Danish Red Cross expects to give up to 12,000 families assistance getting in food for Christmas this year.

That would represent a record number of families asking for a helping hand, Politiken reports.

Although an increase in people turning to charity for help sounds alarming, it is partly due to a reduction in negative connotations being made with financial difficulty, according to a head of department at the charity.

“In the last ten years, there has been an enormous increase in the number of families with children who apply for Christmas assistance. And we are going to set a record this year,” Ziga Friberg, head of the family section at the Danish Red Cross, told Politiken.

“This is not something we are pleased about, even though we’re happy to help. That’s because we’d prefer it if life wasn’t so hard that families need to ask for our help at Christmas,” Friberg said.

In 2010, 1,600 families with children received Red Cross Christmas help. The figure grew to 7,300 in 2015 and 11,700 last year.

The charity’s Christmas help package consists of either a food hamper or a gift voucher to be spent at a store belonging to the Coop supermarket chain.

Several factors are likely to have contributed to the increase in people turning to the charity for help at Christmas, Politiken writes.

“We know that many families still think it is embarrassing and shameful that they are in a situation where they need a helping hand. But we are quite convinced that it has become less of a taboo to ask for help when you need a hand, including at Christmas,” Friberg told the newspaper.

“The stigmatized shame with which (receiving) Christmas charity has always been associated is still there, but probably to a lesser degree,” she said.

Three criteria must be fulfilled for families to qualify for the charity’s Christmas help.

The family must include children, must not be receiving help from other charities, and Red Cross must exchange information about the family with local authorities, given that it is often municipal social workers who provide families with information about the Christmas charity packages.

“These are families known by the municipalities and who we often also know ourselves from our long-term activities. These are families who genuinely need a helping hand,” Friberg said.

Figures from the Economic Council of the Labour Movement (Arbejderbevægelses Erhvervsråd, ECLM) show that the last two years have seen a substantial increase in families struggling to make ends meet due to low income, according to Politiken’s report.

That is also likely related to the increased use of the Christmas charity package.

“These are not families with large social networks or other family members who can step in and help. These families are alone, often on social security, suffering from long-term illness or in very low-paid jobs which make it hard for them to give their children a Christmas that is just a little bit like the one the rest of us have,” Friberg said.

The Danish Red Cross is one of a number of charitable organizations in the country that offer assistance to underprivileged families at Christmas.

READ ALSO: Escape route from poverty shortest in Denmark: OECD