Fat kids disunited

If you're fat, on social benefit and reject the right to union membership, the chances are you're a young Swede. That, at least, is the somewhat spurious conclusion that could be drawn from a scan of the weekend's papers.

If Svenska Dagbladet has ever heard of body fascism, it made its views on the subject clear last Friday with the declaration that “there are far too many fatties” among Swedish children. A report by the National Food Administration concluded that 20% of children weigh too much while 5% of 4 year old boys are classified as obese.

Heléne Enghardt Barbieri, a nutritionist at the Administration, tried to be positive about the findings.

“The good news is that almost all the children in the survey eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day,” she said. Now they just have to learn when to stop.

Maybe they’re just fattening themselves up in preparation for the poverty of their late teens. Sunday’s Dagens Nyheter reported that while the overall numbers of people on social benefit fell last year, the number of 16-24 year olds claiming money from the state has risen significantly.

“For the younger age group, unemployment is the clearest reason,” explained Elis Envall, a researcher at the Welfare Board. “The switch from school to a working life is hard.”

So hard, in fact, that the unemployment rate among 16-24 year olds is 12.9%, more than double the average and the highest since 1998.

“In the higher age groups, people have usually worked before. But young people often haven’t so they don’t qualify for unemployment benefit. That’s why they go straight onto social benefits,” said Envall.

And regular readers will be unsurprised to learn that the situation is even worse if you were born outside Sweden. 7% of 16-24 year olds who were born in Sweden claim social benefit, compared to 20% of those born abroad – and that figure excludes refugees.

Such insecurity makes a report in Monday’s Göteborgs Posten all the more puzzling. According to LO, the central organisation for Sweden’s main unions, membership among 16-24 year old employees (there are some, apparently) is just 57% – compared to an overall figure of well over 80%.

What worries the unions more is that over the last ten years, union membership among the young has fallen by 12%.

We simply have to reverse this trend,” said the chairman of LO, Wanja Lundby-Wedin, after a debate on “new activities to tempt more young people to join unions”.

“We must do this with the support of legislation. We need more secure jobs. The eleven different types of employment which now exist work against union membership. So we must increase the subscription rate to collective wage bargaining. We must raise the visibility of the union. To be a member means the possibility of more power in your job!”

Clearly Wanja needs a little more practice before she starts presenting her temptations to the kids, but it may just be simpler to give in to the market forces of socialism. When asked why they haven’t joined a union, most young people said it was too expensive.