Reinfeldt backtracks over benefit cuts

Göran Persson has passed his hunting license exam and now he's planning an excursion with his wife Anitra Steen, who won’t be handling a weapon herself. Persson figures that’s okay, and told Aftonbladet "You can go to the forest without shooting anything".

Tell that to Fredrik Reinfeldt, who as leader of the Moderate Party, has targeted benefit payments as would-be victims of the hunt for cost savings. However after criticism from various sources, Reinfeldt is now making so many exceptions that it seems benefit payments are bullet-proof.

The Party suggested cutting benefits for the unemployed, early retirees and people on sick leave in what it called an effort to “encourage people to return to work more quickly”.

Today, people on leave are entitled to 80 percent of their normal salaries. The Moderates want to lower that, first to 75, then 65 percent.

DN reported, however, that the party would make exceptions for ‘certain’ early retirees, unemployed people over the age of 55, and sick people who are unable to work. As an example, Reinfeldt said cancer patients and stroke patients who can no longer speak or move normally would be excepted from the Moderates’ proposed benefit cuts.

“Our objective is not to mess with people, but to try to get them back to work,” he told journalists on Tuesday. “Pretty much anyone can keep working if they have the right support.”

Reinfeldt told Sydsvenskan he’s ready to re-write the proposal, as long as the outcome is still an increase in people returning to work.

“This is going to give us improved growth and better welfare,” said Reinfeldt. “The conservative parties must agree on the finances so that the state budget adds up – and we will succeed with that.”

But Social Democrat Tomas Eneroth criticized the party leader for first stating “most certainly” that benefits will be cut, and now “making exceptions for one group after another”.

“They clearly haven’t understood the basic idea. Exceptions from the general rule will split society into competing groups,” he wrote in a press release.

News commentary was not favorable either. Lena Mellin, writing in Aftonbladet, said that backing off on the benefit cuts can hurt the Moderates – and Reinfeldt in particular – politically.

“He and the party seem to display short-sighted thinking. Backing away from a proposal based on principles is difficult, particularly if you want to remain trustworthy,” she said.

SvD’s Ander Jonsson pointed out that Reinfeldt cannot make everyone happy, and that each exception means less money coming in to the government’s coffers.

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, Sydsvenskan