Speech/statement | Date: 29/01/2021
Press conference, Oslo, 29. January 2021.
In our handling of the pandemic, it is important for us to give priority to children, young people and other vulnerable groups. They must be shielded from the consequences as far as possible, but the virus situation does not always allow us to do that. Children and young people carry a substantial burden.
For some, keeping a distance of one metre is particularly difficult.
For some, loneliness is a heavy burden to bear.
For some, the uncertainty overshadows everything else.
Reduced social contact and loneliness are risk factors for mental health problems and isolation.
Since the country went into lockdown in March, the Government has been worried about the consequences it would have for vulnerable groups. That is why we adopted measures aimed at vulnerable groups at a total of nearly NOK 1.5 billion in 2020. The national budget for 2021 includes many important initiatives for children growing up in low-income families, for mental health and for interventions aimed at preventing violence against and abuse of children.
We are now proposing additional measures to prevent loneliness among the elderly, students and vulnerable children and young people. This includes a grant scheme that allows municipalities, in partnership with restaurants, to offer inexpensive meals for elderly people living at home who would like to eat their dinner in the company of others. It is wonderful to see elderly people getting out of the house and experiencing a sense of community around the dinner table.
For children and young people, it is particularly important that services such as schools, youth health centres and leisure activities remain open. That is why the Government has made it clear throughout the coronavirus crisis that we will provide support to the municipalities. We have kept our word, and in 2020, the municipal sector received almost NOK 19 billion in additional public transfers and financial measures on grounds of the pandemic. In this year’s budget, NOK 8.6 billion was earmarked for the municipal sector as compensation for the coronavirus outbreak. The Government has decided to compensate for the municipalities’ increase in expenses and loss of income in connection with the pandemic.
We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and if the need increases, we will respond with additional measures and proposals for allocations.
We also propose extending the stimulus schemes for culture, the voluntary sector and sport until 1 October.
We are also increasing the grant for equipment rental centres by NOK 20 million. This means that even more children and families will be able to borrow skis, skates, sledges and other sports or leisure equipment.
As Guri mentioned, we are concerned about students’ study progress and mental health, and will implement additional measures.
Having a job to go to is important. It is important for the sake of an income, but also to be part of a community and engage in meaningful activity.
The new more stringent infection control restrictions that have been introduced have made the situation in the labour market more challenging. On 15 January, the Government proposed extending special measures relating to the furlough scheme, the unemployment benefit scheme and the scheme for self-employed persons and freelancers until the summer.
Today, we are proposing an additional NOK 1 billion for measures aimed at furloughed workers and the long-term unemployed. The measures include increased investment in follow-up and training initiatives, labour market measures and in-house training.
We also propose extending the special sickness benefit scheme relating to the pandemic and the period of work assessment benefit for job seekers until the end of June. We also intend to make temporary changes to the requirement for minimum income and minimum reduction of working hours under the unemployment benefit scheme, so that persons with fewer working hours or lower incomes will also become entitled to unemployment benefit.
This helps to create predictability and security for everyone experiencing job insecurity.
I will conclude by saying to everyone who feels that their life has been put on hold, who feels alone, who feels that they are losing their foothold and that the uncertainty is difficult to bear: Through forceful measures, we are doing everything we can to make this long period of loneliness come to an end. We will do what it takes to make sure that Norway, and the people who live here, emerge from the pandemic and the financial crisis in the best possible position.