As jobs in Sweden continue to disappear, the country’s unemployment insurance funds have been struggling to keep up with jobless claims, forcing many to wait for months before receiving their benefits.
More than six months after Tanya Martyn learned she would be out of a job due to the bankruptcy of her Malmö
-based employer, she has yet to receive proper benefits from her unemployment insurance fund (a-kassa
Martyn had been employed full-time since 2006 with Mubito, a media company specializing in building direct-to-consumer web platforms for musicians and record labels.
But in April she was told that Mubito was going bankrupt and her job as a project manager would come to an end as of June 1st.
As she wasn’t enrolled in an unemployment insurance programme at the time, Martyn immediately contacted Alfakassan
, a fund not affiliated with any union and open to employees in all sectors.
“They told me to contact them again in two months when I was officially out of a job,” Martyn told The Local.
When June came around and Martyn had worked her last day with Mubito, she promptly filed the necessary paperwork with Alfakassan.
As Martyn had not been a member of the fund for at least 12 months prior to filing her first claim, she was only entitled to receive Alfakassan’s universal basic insurance benefits, which amount to about 320 kronor ($46) per day for a full-time employee.
After a month went by without any word from Alfakassan, Martyn contacted them to check on the processing of her claim.
“They told me it would be at least 12 to 14 weeks before anyone even reviewed my application,” she explained.
“It was a real shock.”
Frustration then set in when Martyn heard why Alfakassan needed so much time to process her application.
“They just said that they were overwhelmed with applications due to the high unemployment numbers and simply didn’t have enough people to review the applications any faster,” she said.
“I asked them, ‘How am I supposed to survive? I have bills to pay.’ They basically told me it was my problem and that they couldn’t help me.”
Martyn’s case is far from unique. According to recent statistics from the Swedish Unemployment Insurance Board (IAF), the wait times at several a-kassa funds have ballooned in recent months.
According to IAF, average wait times to receive income replacement payments have increased to eight weeks, one week longer than members had to wait one year ago.
The average wait time for basic unemployment insurance payments, meanwhile, has jumped to 19 weeks, up 11 weeks since last year.
But the wait times at Alfakassan are among the longest of all Sweden’s unemployment insurance programmes.
According to the most recent statistics from IAF, more than half of the applications for basic unemployment insurance benefits filed with Alfakassan remain unprocessed after five months.
Even after six months, 25 percent of Alfakassan claims have yet to be processed, according to IAF.
Ironically, Martyn should consider herself one of the lucky ones, as she did actually receive her first payment from Alfakassan after waiting 13 weeks.
However, the amount of the benefit payment was about 15 percent less than is should have been.
Martyn has since appealed the decision, and one month later was informed that could expect to wait another 11 weeks for her request to be processed.
In the meantime, Alfakassan neglected to issue Martyn's benefits payment for the following month of October.
"When I called there were a lot of excuses, but they promised me they would include the money for October in my November payment," she said.
While spokesperson Ulf Björklund regrets that many of Alfakassan’s members have had to endure lengthy wait times, he said that measures taken earlier in the year, including the hiring of 100 additional staff members, have gone a long way toward cutting wait times.
“We’ve certainly had long wait times, longer than we would have hoped for,” he told The Local.
“But now if we get in a new, complete application, we’re able to process it in about five weeks.”
He added that the figures from IAF are somewhat inflated because they are calculated from when a person first registers with the National Public Employment Office (Arbetsförmedlingen).
“From there, it may take weeks or even months before someone sends us their benefits application,” said Björklund.
Processing times are also lengthened because up to 90 percent of the applications received by Alfakassan are incomplete or require additional documentation.
Björklund admits that Alfakassan was caught unawares by the wave of joblessness which hit Sweden in the wake of last year’s financial crisis, adding that its mission to be “the a-kassa of last resort” means it receives applications from people who lose their jobs and don’t have any other unemployment insurance.
“A lot of these people aren’t very well established in the job market which can make their applications rather complicated to process,” he said.
So far, Martyn and her husband have managed to make ends meet without additional funds from Alfakassan.
“If it weren’t for our savings, we’d have had to move out and find a cheaper place to live,” she said.
“Now the money I should have received in June to help with expenses during unemployment won’t be paid until at least the end of January. It’s put a real strain on my family.”
The entire episode has also soured Martyn on Sweden’s oft-praised social welfare system.
“I’m really disappointed. Everyone talks about Sweden having this great social safety net, we pay a lot of taxes and I was expecting to be taken care of when I lost my job,” she said.
“It’s not really insurance is it?”