Reindeer Season to Continue as Normal

Reindeer hunting Iceland

Despite recommendations by the Animal Welfare Advisory Board to delay the 2023 reindeer hunting season, Vísir reports that the season will remain unchanged this year.

Reindeer hunting will start on July 15th and cow hunting on August 1st, as in previous years. Reindeer hunting will end September 15th and cow hunting on September 20th. The recommendation by the Animal Welfare Advisory Board was intended for the welfare of reindeer calves, specifically for orphaned calves during the winter. In the Advisory Board’s recommendation, reference was made to Norway, where the hunting season starts later.

Recent findings

However, according to Bjarni Jónasson at the Environment Agency of Iceland, the findings of a recent report did not present sufficient evidence to change the season. In a statement to Vísir, Bjarni said: “A comparison of the average winter mortality rate of calves before and after the protection of calves does not indicate that a higher proportion of motherless calves increases the overall winter mortality rate of calves. By shortening the hunting season and compressing the hunting activities, the hunting pressure on the herds could increase, which could have adverse effects on the animals.”

Bjarni also referred to a recent study from the East Iceland Natural Research Centre. The study found that “there is still no evidence that orphaned calves cannot survive and live through most winters. However, there is a risk that they might have a higher mortality rate than calves that accompany their mothers in harsh years. Such incidents have probably not occurred in the past decade unless very localised.”

Bjarni also repeated that all reindeer hunters are required to have an experienced guide with a valid permit from the Environment Agency. The guide directs the hunter in choosing the animal after observing the herd, allowing hunters to see if the calf is accompanying the cow or not.

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Inflation Response Measures Target Renters, Pensioners, and Families

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson

Renters, pensioners, and families with children are the target groups of government measures intended to reduce the impact of inflation on the most vulnerable demographics. The government approved the measures at a cabinet meeting this morning. They include raising social security benefits, income-related child benefits, and housing benefits.

Housing benefits raised by 10%

Almost half of households on the rental market receive housing benefits, according to estimates from the Housing and Construction Authority. Around 70% of them have index-linked leases. Housing benefits will be increased by 10% from June 1, and the income limit for receiving housing benefits will be raised by 3%. The cost of rent has doubled in Iceland over the past decade.

Additional ISK 20,000 per child

Families receiving income-related child benefits will receive an additional ISK 20,000 per child [$153; €145], to be paid out by the end of June. The child benefit system is being reviewed “with the aim of addressing various shortcomings in the system,” in order to better achieve the objectives of reducing child poverty and supporting parents, especially in lower income brackets. From June 1, disability benefits and benefits for old-age pensioners will be increased by 3%.

Inflation continues to climb

Inflation measured 7.2% in Iceland last month. The Central Bank instituted a sharp 1% hike in interest rates in response. Íslandsbanki analysts have predicted that inflation will continue to rise in Iceland, peaking in June at 7.7%.

The notice concludes by stating that the government will “focus on tight fiscal policy to support the Centra Bank’s monetary policy.”

301 People are Homeless in Reykjavík, Mostly Men

downtown Reykjavík

Data from a new City of Reykjavík report shows there are 301 people experiencing homelessness in the city. The figure is a decrease from previous years. Most, or 71%, are men while women are 29% and the majority is between 21-49 years of age. Most homeless people utilise housing resources provided by the city but eight do not. The chairperson of the City’s Welfare Council stated more must be done to meet the needs of that group.

The number of people experiencing homelessness in Reykjavík has dropped by 14% since the last count was carried out in 2017. While men make up 71% of homeless people in the city, around 10% are foreign nationals (most also men). Just over half lives in utilises registered housing for the homeless or long-term support housing and around one third stays in short-term emergency housing.

“While it’s of course not happy news to see that there are still 300 people in the city that are considered to be in this group that is homeless, nevertheless they have decreased in number,” stated Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir, City of Reykjavík Welfare Council chairperson. “It’s good to see that about half of those people are in permanent or temporary housing. That is really our biggest project and policy, to find ways to reach people who are in that situation and find ways to get people into permanent housing.”

Read More: Door to Door Search to Determine Scope of Unsafe Housing

Eight people are currently living out in the open in poor conditions, without any form of shelter that can be called housing. “During this term we made a change so that no one is turned away from emergency shelters due to lack of space. But there are some people who do not consider [the emergency shelters] to meet their needs or don’t trust them. Of course, the project is to find a solution,” Heiða stated.

How Many People in Iceland are Homeless?

homelessness in reykjavík

Unfortunately, Statistics Iceland has not released statistics on homelessness across Iceland since 2011, when they conducted a census which found there were 761 homeless inhabitants of the country. Of that group, 111 were “primary homeless,” meaning living on the street or in similar conditions, while 650 were “secondary homeless,” or moving between temporary shelters such as friends’ homes, emergency accommodation, and hostels. The majority of homeless people were male and were located in the Reykjavík capital region.

“It is difficult to gather accurate information about homeless people,” Statistician Ómar Harðarson from Statistics Iceland told IR. “We did it in connection with the 2011 census due to international obligations to report them. These requirements will not be as strict in the future and therefore it is unclear whether we will make a similar effort.”

The City of Reykjavík, however, released a report in 2021 that found 301 people were experiencing homelessness in the city. This is a decrease of 14% since 2017. According to data from the report, 71% of the individuals were men, and 29% were women, and most were between 21 and 49 years of age. Just over half were living in temporary or long-term housing provided by the city, while around one-third stayed in emergency shelters. Eight people were living in the open, with no shelter that could be considered housing. City authorities agreed that more needed to be done to meet the needs of this group.

Iceland to Measure Social and Environmental Prosperity

Iceland will broaden its methods of measuring the nation’s prosperity to include social and environmental factors as well as economic ones. The Icelandic government has approved a motion from the Prime Minister to implement the use of 39 well-being indicators to measure prosperity and quality of life in the country. The 39 indicators will be used to shape government policymaking.

Shifting focus from GDP

“Gross Domestic Product and economic growth are certainly important metrics and will continue to be so, but these factors do not tell the whole story about people’s quality of life and the successes of communities,” reads a statement from Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. “It is important to have metrics that take the environment, society, and economy into account.”

Iceland is not the first country to take this approach: many countries have begun to measure national well-being in recent years. Some, like New Zealand, have been using these measurements to design their budgets and shape policy, shifting focus from economic growth to the well-being of their citizens.

Climate, education factored into well-being

Iceland’s 39 well-being indicators are separated into three categories – social, economic, and environmental – and relate to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The social indicators of well-being fall into categories including health, education and work-life balance, while the environmental indicators address issues including air quality, climate, waste, and recycling. Statistics Iceland will oversee the execution and development of the new initiative.

In an interview with Iceland Review, Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson suggested the indicators could help Iceland shift its priorities toward a more sustainable and climate-friendly economy. “With the new five-year budget, I hope that we start seeing the first goals towards other indicators rather than just gross national product. That is a development that is happening in other parts of the world too, and I think it would be very exciting to see how we succeed in implementing that in our small economy.”

Unregistered Foreigners in Iceland Reaching Out for Help

Sigþrúður Erla Arnardóttir

An increasing number of foreigners whose employment or residency situation leaves them ineligible for financial help are seeking assistance from municipal services or charity groups. Sigþrúður Erla Arnardóttir, Director of the City of Reykjavík’s Municipal Service Centre for the Vesturbær, Miðborg, and Hlíðar neighbourhoods, says there are a number of options available for foreigners who have been left stranded or unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reykjavík has six Municipal Service Centres serving residents of different neighbourhoods. The Centre for Vesturbær, Miðborg, and Hlíðar also provides services to foreigners in special circumstances as well as individuals applying for international protection in Iceland. “This means there are more foreigners that come to us than in other neighbourhood service centres due to these particular projects,” Sigþrúður explains, “and we are seeing an increase in people coming in.”

While most foreign residents in Iceland have access to unemployment benefits, some fall outside the system due to their particular employment or residency situation, Sigþrúður says. “The people that have been coming to us generally fall into one of four groups: tourists who didn’t manage to leave the country before restrictions were put in place; individuals who are not fully registered (who have a kennitala (national ID number) but haven’t managed to register a legal address) and therefore don’t have the right to unemployment benefits or financial help; foreign nationals that came to work, didn’t find any, and didn’t manage to leave the country before restrictions were put in place; and finally individuals who have been working without a kennitala or visa and need to get home.”

Legal address required for benefits

Foreign nationals can receive an Icelandic work permit and kennitala without changing their legal residence if they are working in the country for six months or less. In this case, however, they are placed on a special registry (Utangarðsskrá) intended for foreigners working in Iceland short term. Those on the Utangarðsskrá are not eligible for unemployment benefits or other financial assistance. Some individuals in this group now find themselves no longer employed but without a way of getting home.

“The Directorate of Labour and Registers Iceland are aware of this group and we are working on this together. What Registers Iceland has done in these cases is if you can prove that you’ve had an income for a certain length of time they can backdate your legal address registration. We’ve been helping people who are in this situation to collect the documents they need to submit in order to get this retroactive registration of their legal address.”

Undocumented workers seek out NGOs

“The fourth group, those that are in Iceland without a visa or kennitala, isn’t coming to service centres, rather going to the Red Cross and church help centres. At the City our procedure is that we are required to report such individuals to the Directorate of Immigration and the police. We can’t give specific numbers, but we have heard from the Red Cross and church organisations that there has been an increase in people in that situation reaching out for help.”

Individuals choose what help they receive

While Service Centre staff can connect individuals with various services, both to assist with employment-related issues or to help them return to their home country, Sigþrúður assures that the individual ultimately decides what assistance they accept. “It’s important for this group to get the best possible service. It’s difficult if you maybe don’t speak the language, to try to understand how the system works, and that’s why we want to make contact with these groups and assist with whatever ways they can get help. But the choice always lies with the individual.”

Sigþrúður stresses that for those who have lost some or all of their employment, the first step is to contact the Directorate of Labour to determine what their rights are. “But it’s very important to know if they are fully registered in Registers Iceland and if not, what they need to do in order to register fully. Then they can always contact the municipality they live in for assistance.”

Two-Day Workers’ Strike Has Begun

Hallgrímskirkja - Skólavörðuholt -Miðborgin - Reykjavík

Around 1,850 Efling Union members employed by the City of Reykjavík went on strike at 12.30pm today, RÚV reports. It is their third strike action since last week, and the longest yet, set to stand until midnight on Thursday. A contract negotiation meeting between city and union representatives scheduled for yesterday was postponed and is yet to be rescheduled.

The strike actions affect around half of the city’s preschool-attending children, or 3,500, as well as 1,650 individuals who use the Reykjavík’s welfare services. The City’s welfare department received an exception from the strike for the Efling members who perform key services for disabled people and children, as well as services for the elderly both at home and at nursing homes, and emergency services at homeless shelters.

Hjalti J. Guðmundsson, who oversees management and care of city property, says the strike will not affect snow clearing on roads, as that is done by contract workers. It will, on the other hand, affect snow clearing on walking paths and bike lanes. “On bike lanes for example there will be no winter service and on walking paths there will be some reduction. There will also be a reduction [of snow clearing] on lots and that aren’t cleared by contractors, parking lots in front of preschools and primary schools and the like.”

Municipal garbage cans will not be emptied during the strike, nor will garbage be collected from private residences.

Efling workers working for the City of Reykjavík are set to go on strike indefinitely from February 17 if an agreement is not reached.

Reykjavík Preschoolers at Home Today

Around half of Reykjavík’s preschoolers are affected by a worker’s strike today, RÚV reports. Efling Union members who work for the City of Reykjavík are striking for the second time this week, as collective agreement negotiations between the parties have not reached a conclusion. Most of the 1,800 striking workers are employed at schools, including preschools. The city’s welfare department and waste management are also affected by the strike.

Around 3,500 children attending preschools in the city will be affected by the strike today. Preschools that remain open today have split groups so all children attend for half a day, either in the morning or afternoon. Food service is also disrupted in some preschools, meaning children were asked to come with a packed lunch.

Disabled and elderly people affected

The City’s welfare department received an exception from the strike for the Efling members who perform key services for disabled people and children, as well as services for the elderly both at home and at nursing homes, and emergency services at homeless shelters. The strike will nevertheless affect some 1,650 people who depend on services provided by the welfare department. Among the services that will not be performed today are cleaning services in the homes of disabled and elderly people and bathing assistance.

If an agreement is not reached, Efling members will strike again next week, from 12.30pm on Tuesday, February 11 until midnight on Thursday, February 13. An indefinite strike is scheduled from February 17.

In Focus: Poverty and Inequality in Iceland

Even though Iceland is a prosperous country, polls suggest most Icelanders consider poverty the country’s second most pressing issue after healthcare. Despite Iceland’s relative prosperity, poverty in Iceland does exist. While global poverty is decreasing, poverty and inequality in Iceland are on the rise. Children’s poverty is rising at an alarming rate, while senior citizens […]

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