One million Swedes on benefit

Over a million Swedes of working age are living on state handouts, according to figures released on Monday. While that's roughly the same as last year, there has been a significant shift in who is receiving those benefits, with the fastest-rising group of claimants being 25-35 year olds taking early retirement.

“This shows that the Social Democrats are choking people with kindness,” said the Moderate Party’s Per Westerberg, a former Minister of Commerce.

As Monday’s Dagens Nyheter pointed out, the figures mean that 20% of Swedes who could be working are instead claiming unemployment, sickness, social security or early retirement benefit. And it’s the number of people in this last group – more than ever before – that worries Westerberg most.

“We’re seeing the fastest rise in early retirement among young people and that means they’ll be stuck outside the job market for good,” he said. “Early retirement is permanent, affecting society in the long term in a completely different manner than, say, social security.”

Westerberg blamed political policy, telling DN: “The system makes people passive, stripping them of self confidence.” He and his party would like to reduce payments coming from the government.

But the chair of the social benefits committee, Social Democrat Tomas Eneroth, disagreed.

“Do they really believe that people will get healthier and work more if they are poorer?” he asked DN.

Winning the ‘political spin of the week’ award, Eneroth emphasised the bright side of the report from Statistics Sweden: a 20 percent increase in the number of unemployed.

Apparently that figure reflects the fact that people are no longer occupied by retraining programs or other unemployment-aid benefits, and Eneroth suggested that things have become so bad that they can only get better from here on in.

“It takes time before measures see results,” he told DN. “But everything points to an upward curve now.”

And it’s not just the youngsters who are swapping their workboots for the comfortable slippers of early retirement. Aftonbladet’s weekend editions splashed with news of a Government ‘pensions scandal’, calling on hard-working Swedes everywhere (well, maybe not everywhere) to protest against the Cabinet decision to award senior government officials income guarantees and improved pension packages.

The benefits extend not just to existing employees but also former civil servants, ministers and members of parliament – and also provide for retirement before the age of 65.

Deputy Finance Minister Gunnar Lund told Aftonbladet that the decision last February was approved without any debate.

“None of us officials usually review what is discussed in parliament. But in that case it was a done deal. We just approved it. The whole process had been preceded by the usual preparations in the administration.”

Aftonbladet reported that officials are eligible for pensions even if they have worked for the government for as little as six years. The paper then sensationally exposed a few ‘luxury retirees’, among them 59-year old Thomas Franzén, the former director of the National Debt Office.

“It’s important to be able to have a reliable pension and not be dependent on someone giving you a job,” he said. “I’m going to dedicate myself to art.”

And with a tidy 48,600 crowns plopping into his account every month, he can afford to.

Although only 52, the Green Party’s Ewa Larsson draws a parliamentary pension of 19,000 crowns a month. She said it’s harder for people over the age of 50 to get new jobs, but admitted that “another discussion” should perhaps be taken about parts of the policy.

Keeping poverty at bay for ageing government officials isn’t helping Swedish kids. Another report picked up by DN found that 150,000 children are living in homes with the lowest recorded incomes in the country. A further 50,000 live in families that depend on government assistance.

In response, the minister for children and families, Berit Andnor, promised to raise support payments and subsidies for living expenses. She also said she wanted to re-examine evictions, which she believes are “counterproductive and often cost the government more than the sum total of a family’s debt”.

The report, which was produced by a government working group, found that children of single mothers and children of immigrant parents run the highest risk of being poor.

Dodi Axelson