Early retirement rises – sick leave down

The cost of paying for illness-related "early retirement" in Sweden is expected to rise by three billion kronor in 2005, according to new figures from the Swedish Social Insurance Administration. At the same time, the cost of sick benefit will fall by almost the same amount.

According to figures from the Swedish Social Insurance Administration (SSIA), the average number of sick days per person in Sweden over the past year was 42 days per year. This figure was mainly down to the large number of people in early retirement.

While the number of people being granted sick pensions fell last year, it still exceeded the number of people moving from sick pensions into work. This meant that the total number of people supported in this way increased.

In a report released this week, the insurance administration predicted that the cost of early retirement would rise from 54.2 billion kronor in 2004 to 61.8 billion kronor in 2008. This, it was predicted, would be offset by a reduction in the cost of sick and rehabilitation benefits, leading to an overall saving of around 5 billion kronor a year.

Political debate over the high number of people claiming illness-related benefits has led to pressure on SSIA to introduce stricter controls.

Bertil Thorslund, expert adviser at the SSIA, puts the reduction in the number of people claiming sick benefits down to local social insurance offices becoming “much more professional”.

“Before now, cases have been expedited. Now, they are investigated,” he told The Local.

A more widespread awareness of the fact that being on long-term sick leave could lead to social exclusion was also discouraging people from claiming, Thorslund argued. He also said that proposals from the opposition parties to reduce sick benefit levels were “making people understand that they have to take care of the system.”

But Thorslund said that he was not happy that the number of people on sick pensions (or sickness and activity benefit, as it is formally known) was continuing to rise.

“There is unfortunately no sign that the number of people coming off sick pensions is going to rise”.

“This is very regrettable, and part of the problem is the fact that people call it ‘early retirement’: they get in the mindset that once they’ve been granted it they will continue on it until they qualify for the old-age pension.”