• Sweden edition
 

Riksdag sets tougher limits for sick benefits

Published: 10 Dec 2009 13:39 GMT+01:00
Updated: 10 Dec 2009 13:39 GMT+01:00

The measure, which passed by a 149-140 vote, means that people who have been on long-term sick leave for 914 days or whose time-limited sickness benefits have run out will be directed to participate in a three-month training course run by the National Public Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) in order to help them find a way back into the labour market.

No Riksdag members from the three main opposition parties voted in favour of the measure, which Social Democratic parliamentarian Veronica Palm referred to as the “chain of decompensation” when debate on the measure, more formally referred to as the last step in the chain of rehabilitation, began on Wednesday.

Palm charged that the government was promoting policies which took a tough and cynical line toward people suffering from long-term illnesses.

Around 15,000 people are expected to be affected by the changes, which come into effect on January 1st.

During debate on the bill, the opposition accused the government of stripping people of their insurance and associated compensation.

“Your policies are scary and worrying. People will commit suicide because of your policies,” charged Left Party Riksdag member LiseLotte Olsson during the debate, according to the TT news agency.

Eighteen months have passed since the Riksdag first decided to place limits for each link in the chain of Sweden’s welfare and benefits programmes, a move designed to bring as many people back into the workforce as possible.

Wednesday’s debate focused on the specifics of the final step of getting people off sickness benefits and into jobs.

Palm reminded her colleagues that at the time of the original debate, many Riksdag members warned of “dogmatic time limits”.

She brought up the fact that both the Swedish Associations of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) and Samhall, a state-owned company which provides jobs to people with disabilities, said the time limits were too unforgiving.

Palm provided her own explanation for why the government didn’t realize the changes would be problematic for people on long-term sick leave.

“It’s because they believed in the stereotype that people are prone to a little bit of cheating. But now it’s been shown that those who are on sick leave are in fact sick,” she said.

“Take a step back, think about it, do it again and do it right.”

Meanwhile, social insurance minister Cristina Husmark Pehrsson of the Moderate Party didn’t rule out other amendments to the health insurance system in addition to those proposed by the majority in the Riksdag’s health and welfare committee.

“We’re following developments carefully,” she said.

At the same time, however, Husmark Pehrsson asserted that the change was one necessary reform after decades of neglect, but that the question was difficult and complicated.

She reminded her colleagues that when the government took office in 2006, there were 770,000 Swedes on long-term sick leave or receiving benefits after being forced out of the workforce early due to illness or injury.

After a year, she continued, people forced to abandon their careers early against their will were then forgotten.

“We want to give everyone a second chance. We’re building a bridge between sickness benefits and the labour market; between the National Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) and Arbetsförmedlingen,” said Husmark Pehrsson.

“It’s not a bridge, it’s a slide,” countered Palm.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

14:16 December 10, 2009 by Luckystrike
"Your policies are scary and worrying. People will commit suicide because of your policies," charged Left Party Riksdag member LiseLotte Olsson during the debate, according to the TT news agency.

She's right! Plus how can you at this time, force sick people back to work, when there is no fecking work even for the healthy people....It just does not make sense.
14:29 December 10, 2009 by Nemesis
Get the healthy people back to work first.

The once the economy is working, get the others back to work.
16:31 December 10, 2009 by skatty
Typically Swedish paradox!

To get more people to workforce! Sounds like there are so many jobs waiting for people to come and start working!!
16:32 December 10, 2009 by here for the summer
There are obviously many people who need long term disability. There are also many people who are cheating the system and the Swedish taxpayers.

Sweden is the only country I have ever heard the idea that being burnt out was a valid excuse for being on sick leave. In the US at least the term being burnt out is used as a joke not an excuse for sick leave.

There is an association between business taxes and employment regulations and the number of jobs created by companies in countries. More rules ( especially abusive ones ) and taxes on employment equal less jobs in the countries with these rules. Sweden is a great country with many smart hard working people who have created many great companies and inventions . Let them create companies and hire people ..
23:53 December 10, 2009 by xenyasai
"Sweden is the only country I have ever heard the idea that being burnt out was a valid excuse for being on sick leave. In the US at least the term being burnt out is used as a joke not an excuse for sick leave."

I think that depends on which country you are in Western Europe, but most countries will accept the term being burnt out.

If you bothered doing some research you would learn that burnout is an accepted classification within psychology.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnout_(psychology)

You also need to keep in mind that USA and Western Europe has completely different work cultures. It is almost like comparing apples and oranges. From what I have been told by people from the US you have to earn your holidays; while in Sweden and other Western Europe countries you by law have the right to a certain amount of days off based on the amount of work you do.

And while we are at it, some of us from Europe make jokes about Americans who are unable to leave work on time to spend time with family and friends. But that is again the cultural differences between Europeans and Americans.

I have worked for a few different international companies and seen why some companies have such a high illness rate. It is rarely due to people being slackers, it most of the time is because the company treats their employees as cattle and don't care if someone gets ill because of that.
03:02 December 11, 2009 by NickM
I agree with xenyasai on this.

The Swedish welfare system has been under severe attack for at least the past 20 years and never more so than under the current centre-right coalition. "Getting people back into the workplace" is a very innocent sounding expression used by politicians which effectively means, "forcing them back into low paid, insecure jobs that nobody wants or are humane".

The role of most politicians is to satisfy the demands of the private sector. They know that wages are decreasing, McJobs increasing and employer abuses becoming widespread but it's not important to them. What is important is keeping the wheels turning of the large corporations that they need to back them when the next election comes around. Whether the people are long term ill or burned-out by intolerable stress caused by employers squeezing every last drop of blood out of their employees is no concern of theirs.

One would hope the Social Democrats will roll back such changes as those described in this article f they win power again although once such things have been passed, they often stay.

http://thisisweden.wordpress.com/
07:51 December 11, 2009 by karex
@NickM

It's because of the Social Democrats that Sweden went from having one of the best Health, Education, Transportation systems in the world to among the worst, at least in Europe.

People who have legitimate needs should have the right to sick leave. What burns me is the inordinate amount of people who are not sick and are milking my hard-earned tax money to sit at home and play internet poker. Then when I need a doctor I have a hard time finding one within the month.

What is needed is to have more control systems in place to weed out these bums. One which will not hurt the truly ill. Like having a yearly evaluation for instance, by a different doctor each time, and not your doctor friend...

These cheaters have hurt the ill more than the stupidly-thought politicins' rules. I know both kinds: the kind who slacks off and the kind who is truly ill and was denied support because "things were looking bad and we need to show some sort of action" - then they just start refusing people down the board without a proper evaluation.
11:49 December 11, 2009 by Mib
Ok guys...stop getting so emotional about this.......it's typical headline news with no bckground info. ie. I bet they haven't sat down and read through the new plans page by page before writing this story. The fact is that if you are truly sick, then you will still be entitled to sickness benefits. But, it is right that people are asked to prove they are sick to a level that they can do no type of work.

My Wife is a Doctor and has several people each week come into her surgery asking to be signed off when they do not justify it. They bully and get angry when she tells them NO. But, weaker GPs cannot handle the confrontation and just sign them off. So, there are weaknesses in the system, which need to have checks and balances. As with all systems, if there are no checks and balances, people will abuse the system......a sizeable miniority do unlawfully claim money, which diverts it from real needs such as education etc. But, the majority are legitimate and should have no concerns as long as they are sick.
12:13 December 11, 2009 by NickM
@Karex

I fully agree that the Social Democrats have followed the neo-liberal dogma that has wrecked every other social system in Europe - although I'm not sure I'd agree Sweden now has one of the worst social systems in the World.

I agree too that the answer is to root out those that are abusing the system but it's important to understand that that isn't what politicians are concerned with. Their job is to make sure that the corporate world has enough unwilling workers to keep the cogs of capitalism turning whether or not they are sick or not. It is not the result of "stupidly thought" political policies - the thought is very logical to the politicians involved - i.e. serving the interests of the corporate community.
13:32 December 11, 2009 by karex
I could name a few so-called third-world countries with health care systems superior to the so-called first-world Swedish one...
18:24 December 11, 2009 by NickM
Cuba is one I suspect. But the Cuban healthcare system is leaps and bounds better than many in Europe because they have this funny philosophy of investing heavily in it. Beyond that, you'll have to enlighten me.

I admit, I've never personally experienced the healthcare system here. But I find it hard to believe Sweden's healthcare system is worse than richer countries such as the UK where diseases such as MRSA have emerged from dirty hospital wards.
19:55 December 11, 2009 by Bensonradar
Not a very good idea. While there are some people who do abuse the system, most people who claim sickness benefits cannot work. However, cutting their benefits and forcing some of them to find a job is politically insensitive and morally dubious. With high unemployment set to continue, it begs the question: What jobs? If fit and active people cannot find employment, what chance do ill people have? Maybe they could find jobs in the Civil Service?
20:48 December 11, 2009 by here for the summer
Taxes especially business taxes and work rules and the amount of jobs available are related. This is not the 1920's with a European monopoly on technology and a labor. The idea of workers vs employers is gone we are all on the same team competing with the world. There can be a balance between life and work and Sweden does a good job with that but sometimes attitudes slip into anti capitalist view that is unhelpful to Sweden and Swedish employment.

Very sad to hear in this time when great companies like Volvo and Saab are being forced to close due at least in part due to uncompetitive wage and labor structures the old socialist views voiced here as though this wasn't a world economy with many competing workforces trying to attract the same investment.
12:30 December 12, 2009 by steve_38
I lived in Sweden for 3 years and during this time was an MD for a large company with some 1,500 employees. The one thing that shocked me was the high levels of sickness and absenteeisim and what was actually worse was that the Swedish Management team did nothing about it they just accpeted people went off and sometimes never came back. We got to grips by talking to people and involving health proffesionals and also just being clear on waht was acceptable. 1 Married couple both took time off sick to look after the child rather than put it in child care, or the guy who always took time off for winter sporting events.

Some sickness is acceptable my currnet Uk business in manufacturing is 1.4% but we manage it. In Sweden 5 is normal and above 10 is not uncommon, the problem is all this whinging about sickness but no one actually cares to do anything the problem is theGoverment pay for it so no on gives a s**t.

Also I have to say it Swedish people are generally more sick which is suprising when the hours are short and the holidays long. When you ask an english person if the are allright they say "Im OK" if you ask a Swede this you get a long list of ailments.

One problem is the long summer break (its too long) and people really need a break April and Sept but they generally have used all the holiday in the Summer on the long break.

I like Sweden have many Swedish friends, having time off sick in Sweden is the norm its not considered unusal.

Part time sick is even a bigger problem its the goverments wya of keeping the unemployment artifically low.

You could reduce tax by 10% minimum if people did not abuse the systme.

I expect this will get all whingers off
03:26 December 13, 2009 by Davey-jo
The current recession is much deeper even than anything that happened in the 1930's. My mother (born 1920 in Hartlepool) told me they cut benefit to 67.5p (10SEK) per week per family. I suspect they'll manage to avoid anything as bad as that now because they value their genitals.
09:05 December 13, 2009 by lingonberrie
You could always have the United States system, and learn just what slave-driving is all about.

Executives have one (generous) system for sick leave; the Federal Gov''t has another whereby hours for sick-leave are earned each month without a maximum limit, and can be exchanged for paid hours. Thirteen days/year for new employees, and that can accrue for years.

Those two examples are pie-in-the-sky pipe-dreams for the average American worker, who in most instances has no paid sick days whatsoever. Miss too many days and you are fired, and when you are fired you cannot collect unemployment benefits.

So, be glad that Sweden treats Swedes like humans and not slaves.
16:11 December 13, 2009 by tenorlove
I live in the USA, and the last time I called in sick, with the flu, I was told "drink a bottle of Nyquil and get your @$$ in here!" -- this in a food service job. It wasn't until I actually arrived at work and my boss could see that I wasn't slacking off that I was told to "take my germs and go home". I ended up missing 4 weeks of work with pneumonia, and during that time, they put me on leave of absence. This meant I had a job when I recovered, but I lost seniority. I got promoted to management right after my return. Had the promotion not been in the plans when I got sick, I may have gotten fired for missing too much work.

My husband's boss returned to work FIVE DAYS after a Caesarean section -- she would have come in sooner, but the doctor made her stay in the hospital for 4 days. The baby, born 6-weeks prematurely, went straight from NICU to daycare. When my husband suggested hiring another person to help with the workload, he was told to come in on Sundays (he was already working 12 hours a day 6 days a week, on fixed salary, meaning no overtime pay), and when he refused, he was fired.

We are now both self-employed. It's good because we can take time off if we need to, and we're not dependent on someone else for a paycheck. The only drawback is that at certain times of the year, money is tight, but we are learning to prepare for the slow months.
01:53 December 14, 2009 by lingonberrie
tenorlove has verified the entire American system.

However, what has happened that would induce anyone to work 6 days/week @12hours/ day? Many in the States would say that to survive that you must do what she and her husband did, but she kills that argument by reporting that she and her husband are now both, wisely, self-employed.

She might well have instances of "tight" money, but the trade-off to the slavery that they both volunteered for with the normal capitalistic American employee/employer relationship is obvious.
15:48 December 14, 2009 by mkvgtired
lingonberrie, "in most instances has no paid sick days whatsoever". This is simply not true. I have never worked for a company that did not offer me paid sick time. I have never used all of the sick time allotted to me in a given year. That being said, the Swedish system is great for people who are truly severely sick, however, closing some of the loopholes seems like it will be a huge benefit for Swedish taxpayers.
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