The fight against joblessness is the most important question for Social Democrats, Persson told his audience at his traditional summer speech in his home province of Sörmland.
Persson, who has been battered in opinion polls thanks to the opposition’s successful exploitation of high levels of unemployment and sick leave, said that the next budget would contain a programme to create “several thousand” public sector jobs.
“I don’t want to meet you again here next year if we have not succeeded in pushing back unemployment,” he said.
The new initiative could lead the government to drop its self-imposed spending limits, Persson admitted, although he insisted that this was not inevitable. He said that if he had to “choose between sticking to [spending limits] and getting the better of unemployment, then unemployment will go first.”
The jobs will be targeted mainly at young people and the long-term unemployed. They will be given jobs in government agencies, mainly doing desk jobs or looking after old people. Some of the jobs will be new, while others will be created by replacing exisiting employees who retire.
Proposals that were highlighted by Persson included using the long-term unemployed to “help old people to hang curtains,” while some of the younger recruits could be employed to investigate benefits fraud. This was condemned as populistic by public service union ST:
“The Social Insurance Office’s own research shows that fraud exists, but is very limited,” said ST vice chairwoman, Siv Norlin.
“New recruitment should be focused on core operations which are suffering from having insufficient resources.”
The Moderate Party also criticised Persson’s policy. Party secretary Sven-Otto Littorin slammed the suggestion that the government should cast aside its spending limits, and condemned the proposals for new jobs, saying they amounted to “benefits with compulsory labour.”
He argued that the focus should instead be on reducing tax and cutting benefits. He said that a new set of business policies to help small companies to expand would have a more positive effect on unemployment.