Per H. Jensen Lars Torpe

The illusion of universalism: The case of the Danish welfare state

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Denmark is together with the other two Scandinavian countries often presented as a prototypical example of the universal welfare state, and there is a widespread sense that the Danish (and Scandinavian) welfare state model generates support for the welfare state. Using Denmark as an example, however, this article argues that universalism in Scandinavia is an illusion to some degree. The welfare state in Denmark is largely decentralized. Consequently, the Danish welfare state breaks with one of the basic universalistic principles: that citizens in the same situation throughout the country are to receive the same treatment. This also means that the broad support of the welfare state in Scandinavia must be re-explained. This articles attempts to explain the support for the welfare state amongst the Danes with reference to how, locally, most citizens are satisfied with the welfare services they are offered; that the citizens have a sense of being close to and being heard by the local authorities (the welfare state is transparent and accountable), and that a shared responsibility for equal access to welfare benefits from all sides of the political spectrum is considered something positive in Denmark.


  • Universalism
  • Decentralization
  • Welfare Policies
  • Welfare State Support
  • Social Cohesion


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