Government loses sick pay vote by slim margin
Published: 01 Jul 2011 14:54 GMT+02:00
Updated: 01 Jul 2011 14:54 GMT+02:00
The Swedish government suffered another setback in the Riksdag on Friday, when the Sweden Democrats voted with the centre-left opposition to force through its proposal by a single vote.
“This is a very muddled decision made by the Riksdag, and the government will have to continue to work on the matter,” said Gunnar Axén, Moderate MP and chairman of the Riksdag committee on social insurance, to news agency TT.
The centre-left opposition’s proposal aims to fix the most “acute shortcomings” of the 2008 health insurance reforms implemented by the government.
The reforms were meant to address the problem of a spiralling sick leave rate among Sweden's generally healthy population, but since they came into effect they have been the subject of near constant criticism.
A change to the rules regulating sickness benefits resulted in a large number of people moving into work or training programmes and placed a limit on the time people could be off work on sick leave.
People who had been on state sick benefits for more than 180 days were duly forced to either apply for work or training, or to seek lower sick benefits from Sweden’s social insurance agency (Forsäkringskassan).
In April, the Swedish government proposed a number of changes to its reforms, admitting its current efforts had left some people in a jam.
But the opposition were not satisfied with the proposed changes.
They argue in their new proposal that people who have or have had time limited sickness compensation (sjukersättning) and who lack an income should be allowed to re-enter the insurance scheme so they can receive benefits in line with the level they had previously.
In addition, they wanted to put a stop to having people booted out of the insurance system altogether, although people who are receiving benefits should still have the right to partake in employment-reintroduction programmes without losing their benefits.
The centre-left also wanted to have the assessments of people's ability to work, which take place after 180 days, to be carried out in a way similar to the methods used prior to changes implemented in 2008.
However, according to Axén, the opposition’s proposals have not been properly researched. Speaking to the MPs, he stressed that not enough authorities had been asked to offer their counsel.
He also called the preparation of the proposal “deficient, if not non-existent” and said it had “made a mockery of the citizens”.
But the Riksdag went with the centre-left opposition’s line, with 140 votes in favour to 139 votes against.
Following the Riksdag's decision, many government agencies and other organisations affected by the result of the vote have declared themselves to be dissatisfied with the new proposal drafted by the opposition.
Sweden's Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) had both praise and blame for the changes, whereas the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen – LO) and the Swedish Rheumatism Association (Svenska Reumatikerförbundet) said that it was "a patchwork job" and that a complete overhaul is needed to change the system for the better.
The changes in the centre-left’s proposal are suggested to come into effect on January 1st 2012, together with the changes outlined by the government in April.