With a population of 341,741 people and poverty rates rising, Iceland has continued its trend of incorporating old and innovative solutions to eradicate poverty. Valdimar Svavarsson, the manager of the Christian nonprofit organization Samhjalp in Iceland, told The Borgen Project that “Iceland is overall considered to be among the best places to live in the world in terms of quality of life.” However, the COVID-19 pandemic has threatened that quality of life significantly. Several innovations in poverty eradication in Iceland, such as welfare centers, government programs and other new ideas have emerged as the pandemic has increased the unemployment rate in Iceland.
Lowering Unemployment and the Department of Welfare
Iceland has been working towards reducing its unemployment and poverty rate by initiating welfare centers. Six welfare service centers are in Reykjavik, and they help Icelandic citizens access services related to Icelandic schools, financial support, counseling and more.
The Department of Welfare for Reykjavik, Iceland coordinates a variety of projects and events to help with poverty-related issues in Iceland with the core values of welfare, respect and activity in mind for people who request help. It mainly focuses on projects involving financial assistance, child protection and social housing programs, which all help with Icelandic low-income households. In particular, the financial assistance department of the Department of Welfare works to help unemployed citizens and families in Iceland through a simple application process. The application process requires that citizens search for employment. However, citizens can appeal the results of their applications if they receive a denial.
Homelessness and Limited Housing
The capital city of Iceland, Reykjavik, last reported that 360 people were homeless at the end of 2017. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Vilborg Oddsdottir, the Head of the Domestic Department of the Icelandic Church Aid Group, said that “there is a low-income housing company in Iceland right now” to help deal with the high housing prices in Iceland.
Solutions to Reducing Child Poverty in Iceland
Another innovation in poverty eradication is how Iceland has been working toward eliminating child poverty in the country. In fact, it ranks at the top for children’s rights. As of the latest report in 2015, the child poverty rate in Iceland was on the lower end of approximately 5% based on their families’ income levels prior to the pandemic.
The Icelandic Church Aid Group formed in 1970 and is better known as the Church Relief Society. The Church Relief Society partnered with Iceland’s Evangelical Lutheran Church for an innovative poverty solution that gives educational supplies to lower-income families across Iceland through an application process starting in late August 2020. The new initiative entitled “No Child Left Out” wants to make sure students are not experiencing social isolation based on their family’s financial situation. Vilborg Oddsdottir advised The Borgen Project that “education is the best way out of poverty, and we have to maintain respect for all kinds of education” available to students in Iceland. In 2020, the Icelandic Church Aid Group helped approximately 30,000 children in Iceland according to Oddsdottir.
How Iceland enacted Innovative Testing Procedures and Government Aid during COVID-19
Only 5.4% of Iceland’s citizens were living below the poverty line in 2015. One of the major causes of poverty in Iceland is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused unemployment rates to skyrocket even as the country implemented innovations in COVID-19 protection early on. In the past few months, Iceland was able to test any citizen requesting a test and automatically isolate infected citizens from the public as most businesses remained open. Due to these innovative precautions, Iceland was able to reopen to tourists as early as June 15, 2020, and even implemented the requirement of testing each tourist.
After most of the Icelandic public received COVID-19 tests, the citizens were able to view their results using an innovative contact tracing application to prevent an outbreak. Even with precautions, Vilborg Oddsdottir has seen that “COVID has affected us a lot because now we have nearly 9% unemployment in Iceland. Even in our bank crisis, we have not seen unemployment like we have now.” The Icelandic government’s innovative support system is addressing the increased unemployment rate. The unemployment benefits stated that people would receive some of their salary based on the amount of part-time work they had with their company until September 30, 2020.
The Iceland Family Aid program has been working towards helping low-income families across Iceland since its founding in 2003. The organization is accepting food donations every month at its only two locations in Reykjavik and Reykjanesbaer. The way for the food undergoes distribution across Iceland is through an online registration process that delivers the food to low-income residents once a month, providing aid to various families and people living in poverty and aiding in poverty eradication in Iceland.
With the reduction in tourism and increasing unemployment rates due to COVID-19, Valdimar Svavarsson has found that “at the moment, the government is doing many things to support the growing group that is now facing unemployment.” The current innovative solutions and input of the Icelandic government should help the country bounce back from high unemployment rates while helping low-income citizens.
– Evan Winslow