Responsibility for the social institutions was formally assumed by the Home Rule in 1981, while the health care was first taken over in 1992. All health care is conducted under public auspices and is free of charge. Doctors and dentists are in the municipalities and a large, nationwide laser is placed at Nuuk (Godthåb). In particular, disability care has been expanded; a body has been set up to guide the municipalities, set up group housing for adults with disabilities and strengthen the resources for the few special institutions that exist. Previously, it was a practice to send severely disabled people to Denmark. The benefit scheme consists of child allowances, “social pensions” (eg early retirement), housing allowance, sickness benefit, parental benefit and assistance to the physically and mentally handicapped. The rapid societal development that took place during the latter half of the 20th century broke old cultural patterns and led to serious social problems. Great efforts are being made today to deal with the high alcohol consumption, the many suicides and the social exclusion.
Greenland is still (2009) characterized by large income disparities between those who live in the larger communities and those who live in the villages where the sources of income are completely tied to hunting and fishing. Similarly, social inequality has been created between the educated urban population who, in addition to Greenlandic, also master Danish and increasingly English and living in the small fishing and hunter communities where many speak only Greenlandic. Several Greenlandic communities are characterized by housing shortages, and many public buildings have a major need for renovation.
Greenland belongs to Denmark but has internal autonomy. Greenland’s interests at national level are monitored by two Greenlandic members of the Danish Parliament and Greenlandic advisers in both the State and Foreign Ministries. In addition, Greenland has an office in Copenhagen and representatives at the Danish Embassy in Brussels.
The National Board (naalakkersuisut) is Greenland’s government and the county council (inatsisartut) is Greenland’s parliament with 31 members. Elections to the county council are held every four years. The government is appointed by the majority in the county council. Greenland’s former 18 municipalities were merged from New Year 2009 into four large municipalities. For example, two poor municipalities on the east coast were merged with Nuuk, Paamiut and Ivittut on the southwest coast into Sermersooq municipality, which is almost as large as Sweden and the UK, but has only 22,000 inhabitants. Even larger, but with even fewer inhabitants, is the municipality of Qaasuitsup which has a distance from south to north of just over 150 km.
The Social Democratic Siumut (Forward) has traditionally been the largest party and has been the mainstay of all governments since 1979 except for the period 2009-2013 when Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) led a government coalition.
Three years after the 2002 election, the then head of government, Hans Enoksen, announced a new election in September 2005, which was motivated by the fact that Siumut and its coalition partner IA could not agree on the budget. However, the background to the disagreement was internal problems in Siumut; a serious dispute was going on among party members after it was revealed that two Social Democrats had used state money for parties with alcohol and women. After the election, Siumut, which retained its 10 seats, was able to re-form government with IA, but in 2007 IA left the coalition after disagreement on a bill on shrimp catches. IA did not want to agree on measuring shrimp catches by value instead of weight. Siumut then formed a government with bourgeois Atassut.
Prior to the transition to increased self-government, Enoksen announced a new election to the county council in June 2009. Siumut then lost power to IA, which won a historic victory and almost doubled its share of the electorate. IA received 44 percent of the vote against Siumut’s 26.5 percent. IA doubled its mandate to 14 of the county council’s 31 seats. IA’s victory was considered to be due to the Siumut government being linked to corruption scandals and to IA emphasizing Greenlandic independence more than Siumut.