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Five percent of Swedes on sickness benefits

TT/David Landes · 18 Nov 2009, 11:59

Published: 18 Nov 2009 11:59 GMT+01:00

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New figures from Sweden’s Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) show that the number of Swedes between 40- and 49-years-old receiving either sickness compensation (sjukersättning) has nearly doubled since 1991, the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper reports.

At the end of 2008, around 530,000 people, more than 5 percent people of Sweden’s entire population, were receiving one of the two benefits -- sickness compensation or activity compensation (aktivitetsersättning) -- designed to compensate people who can no longer work full time due to illness or injury.

Of that figure, 150,000 were receiving only partial benefits.

Activity compensation is available to people between 19- and 29-years old and is intended to “support young people who cannot work due to illness or some other disability”, according to the agency.

Sickness compensation, on the other hand, is available to workers aged 30 and above who have had their ability to work permanently reduced by at least a quarter due to illness or disability.

Sickness compensation can be partial, permanent, or time-limited.

In drawing up the report, Försäkringskassan analyzed what led people to start accepting benefits and how their economic situation has changed from 1991 to 2006.

The figures haven’t changed appreciably since 2006, said Ulrik Lidwall, an analyst with the agency, told the newspaper.

He is concerned, however, that Swedes are starting to take sickness compensation at increasingly younger ages and that the number of households with children included among those who rely on benefits payments to survive has more than tripled since 1991, from 8,000 to 27,000.

The investigation also revealed that one in three single parents with sickness compensation has a low standard of living, compared with less than one in ten from the early 1990s.

“It’s really tragic because we’re talking about people who have a long time left before they reach retirement,” Lidwall told DN.

“You have to be careful not to generalize, but the economic situation for many people with sickness compensation increases the risk that many children will be deprived of a good start in life.”

In addition, the value of sickness and activity compensation benefits are only guaranteed to increase along with general price rises, meaning the purchasing power of benefits recipients is successively eroded in comparison to workers who see their wages increase faster than the pace of inflation.

“An early entry into sickness and activity compensation brings with it a much greater risk for a life of relative poverty. In the long run, it can also lead to a significantly lower standard of living as a pensioner,” said Lidwall in a statement.

Story continues below…

Sweden’s social insurance minister Cristina Husmark Pehrsson agrees.

“There ought to be a law prohibiting young people who have had activity compensation from automatically receiving sickness compensation when they turn 30. It creates a risk for a permanent poverty trap,” she told the TT news agency.

In September, the government announced the allocation of 17 billion kronor ($2.36 billion) in the autumn budget for initiatives to prepare the long-term sick for a return to the workplace.

Earlier that month, the Social Insurance Agency released figures showing that 4,400 Swedes lost their right to sickness benefits in the first half of 2009 as the agency tightened its regulations.

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TT/David Landes (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:32 November 18, 2009 by EtoileBrilliant
"It's really tragic because we're talking about people who have a long time left before they reach retirement," Lidwall told DN.

No what's tragic is that the rest of us are picking up the tab. When only India has more sick days per capita (and in their case it is unpaid), one must ask oneself if Sweden has (i) an excellent health care system and (ii) one of the highest "happiness quotients" in the world -how can this happen?
15:56 November 18, 2009 by Staffs
It's called "Going Galt", after the character John Galt in Ayn Rand's masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, written in 1957.

It means that more and more people opt out of working for a living when all they see around them at the highest levels of business and society is theft and corruption.

The end result is that over time less and less productive people support more and more of those who are unproducitve, i.e. those who have already opted out, until the situation becomes unsustainable and the whole economy collapes.

We are on that path now, the whole Western World is.

Really, why work your nads off only to see most of it go to:

1. The politicians raking in millions from the Euro gravy train

2. CEOs of large natural resource companies earning millions off the back of natural resources that should belong to everyone.

3. Everyone else on benefits, parental leave, government in the form of tax, VAT

Why, why bother to work and see over 75% of it go in tax of one form or another, just join the unproductive classes and escape the stress.

Go Galt!
16:34 November 18, 2009 by Nemesis
03:08 November 19, 2009 by Davey-jo
About 20 or so years ago, when Mrs Thatcher was PM in the UK, unemployment rose and rose to extremely high levels. The government came up with a surprising scheme (a cunning plan) to reduce the numbers of unemployed.

It was called Incapacity Benefit and it worked like this. You were advised by some civil servant to go to your doctor and say you were too ill to work; it didn't really matter that what your problem was just so long as your doc signed a form saying you couldn't work. Suddenly you were no longer unemployed you were unable to work due to incapacity! Hoozaa,Hoozaa!

Trouble is now there are millions of incapables drawing benefit and it's all gone a bit stupid. It's estimated that 21% of adults are economically inactive in the UK.

Now Sweden is a different case and you wouldn't do anything as daft as that; would you?
08:32 November 19, 2009 by Marc the Texan
I think Staffs makes a good point and is probably right with "Going Galt". I can tell you one thing that cures this is becoming an entrepreneur and gaining the satisfaction of running your own show. Sweden needs to have a stronger culture in promoting entrepreneurialism. People have to get used to the idea that you may fail a few times before you can actually ride the bike. A culture that values these failures as learning experience and tells them to get back on the bike rather than quit and say I tried. I had a lot of pitiful failures until I finally had great success. You only have to succeed once. I went off on this tangent, because if you are a corporate drone in a mind numbing job, going on disability probably feels like your only refuge from the drudgery of your day job.
10:06 November 19, 2009 by samwise
does this imply that the Swedes are in a very bad shape in terms of their health?

the superior health care system does not improve people health?

how could that be??

or it's just another example of the culture of victimhood
13:27 November 19, 2009 by miau
Sounds like we're going down a well-trodden path:

1) Statistics are released. A problem is uncovered.

2) Politicians initiate a "debate" about how the problem can be resolved. Unstated aim: To cut public expenditure. In this case, to cut sickness benefits.

3) The media chimes in, compliments the pollies' arguments, galvinizing public opinion.

4) Once the necessary amount of public support has been reached (irrespective of how small), legislation is drafted. The government demands more than it wants.

5) Modifications to the legislation are made based on the inevitable public concerns.

6) Legislation is passed in the form the government wanted in the first place.
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