Nine out of ten women ?lose out by working?

Ninety percent of Swedish women would be better off if they were on sick benefits, a new report has shown. The study, by academics at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, showed that non-professional women are effectively being deprived of incentives to return to work.

Karolinska had been asked to carry out a risk assessment by the life insurance company AFA in order for them to identify the problem with women who are on sick leave over a long period. Three hundred women who have been on long-term sick leave were compared to 300 women who were healthy and working normally.

Among the worst effected were women working in the health service (with female doctors being an exception). After allowance was made for lunch and travel costs, these women were on average 999 crowns worse off in work than they would have been on sick benefits. This was based on the Swedish Consumer Agency’s (Konsumentverket’s) calculation that travel and food costs 1,490 crowns per month.

The situation was very different for highly educated women. Teachers were on average 777 crowns better off in work than they would have been on benefits.

The majority of the women were working part-time and therefore were more likely to be responsible for childcare, and therefore had less control over their own lives. This meant they were under more domestic pressure than others.

The report’s authors, writing in Dagens Nyheter, argued that the high levels of sick benefits paid to women were part of the problem. Hélène Sandmark and Monica Renstig said that the benefits system needed to be reformed so that there were financial incentives for women to work.

In Sweden, 64 percent of women on sick leave are diagnosed with stress-related illnesses, including “burn-out” and muscle pain. Many of the report’s findings raised the question of how sick some of the women interviewed by the researchers actually were. A quarter of those questioned said that they could work immediately if they got another employer, and a fifth said that they could go back to their existing job if it was adapted to their needs.

The report also highlighted problems with the labour market’s structure, particularly in the healthcare sector. A woman who had never changed employer in her life was three to five times more likely to end up on long-term sick leave.

The report also claimed that women are far more sensitive to what their bosses think about them and crave appreciation more than men.

“It’s a question about many different factors and elements in everyday life”, said Karin Hanqvist, administrator at Stockholm Council.

Jenny Lepley & James Savage

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet, Dagens Nyheter