COPENHAGEN – A Danish man who spent a decade on benefits and now sells sweaters emblazoned with the slogans “Unemployed and proud” and “I can’t be bothered” is riling welfare critics.
Robert Nielsen, 45, was nicknamed “Lazy Robert” last year after he appeared on a talk show and admitted he would rather live on social benefits than take a job he didn’t find meaningful.
“I have never suffered from the fallacy that it’s necessary to have a job to have a good life,” he said in an interview. “I consider myself intellectual. So I would obviously like to have a job where I can use what I know about the world.”
Such comments have struck a nerve in Denmark, where right-wing commentators claim the generous welfare system has made the population too complacent.
“We will look over all employment measures, and if there are people out there like Lazy Robert, the demands will become more stringent” for them, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said.
The Scandinavian country has scaled back parts of its welfare state after a burst housing bubble prompted its economy to hit bottom in 2009. But it is still a place where most people leave work at 4 p.m., and where unemployed people can claim up to 80 percent of their salary for two years after losing their jobs.
In the past 12 years, Nielsen has done stints as a flooring contractor and as a janitor at McDonald’s, but it never took long before he was back on the dole.