Real people better than robots - say Danish residents

25th of October 2013
Real people better than robots - say Danish residents

ECJ correspondent in Scandinavia, Petra Sjouwerman, reports from Denmark, where elderly residents like real cleaners more than robots.

Elderly residents in Denmark prefer real life cleaners. A recent study has shown that a majority of elderly Danes experienced a considerable reduction in their quality of life by having a robot vacuum instead of a person coming in to do the vacuuming.

The past few years the majority of the Danish councils have forced their elderly residents who receive elderly care, to buy robot vacuum cleaners. A measure with which municipalities hoped to save money.

The first town in Denmark to introduce the small, round robot vacuum cleaner that sweeps and vacuums with the touch of a button, was Billund, the town that hosts Denmark’s most famous amusement park Legoland. In 2011 Billund won a court case that allowed the town to stop providing cleaners, arguing that the elderly could just buy a robot.

This court decision has led to an emotional public debate in Denmark about the role of the welfare state and the level of elderly care provided. Like in many other countries in Western Europe, Danish policy makers are faced with the difficult question of how to finance care for an increasing number of elderly. 

But soon after the court case several councils introduced the so-called Billund model. In January this year, 66 per cent of the country’s municipalities had introduced robot vacuum cleaners for the elderly.

But while some funny films have appeared on Facebook with house cats that apparently love the soft humming robot and let themselves drive around on it, the measure was no success. A study in Copenhagen showed that very few people had actually bought a robot vacuum cleaner and instead were paying private companies to do the cleaning.

Furthermore, the Social Welfare Board ruled earlier this year that local authorities should provide the robots themselves.

An increasing number of councils are now changing their policy. Apparently technology is not always the best solution. ”We thought it would be easier to introduce the new technology into the homes of the elderly than it was,” said council member Flemming Brank in Copenhagen (Conservative Party), a Danish newspaper.

Voluntary decision

According to the Danish elderly advocacy group Aeldre Sagen, welfare technology can be a positive step forward, but it should be a voluntary decision and not forced upon residents by local authorities. From now on elderly residents may try a robot cleaner for three months and thereafter they can decide whether to continue with it or have a person come in.

Danes are the happiest people in the world according to the UN’s Global Report on Happiness, which is published every year. Researcher from the Danish Happiness Institute in Copenhagen think that people are happier if they use their money to create more time for family and friends.

These researchers are now going to put this theory to the test. They want to examine whether there are effects on people’s happiness when they have paid cleaning help.


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