Leaving out payments to refugees, the increase was 23 percent compared with the same quarter last year, according to a new report from Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) based on figures from Statistics Sweden (SCB).
“Many things may have caused the increase, but the largest part is likely due to the prevailing weak economy and increased unemployment,” Mary Nilsson, head of Socialstyrelsen’s division for individual and family care, said in a statement.
Altogether, Swedish municipalities paid out around 2.72 billion ($389 million) kronor during the third quarter, including assistance to newly arrived refugees.
Payment increased in nearly all of Sweden’s 290 municipalities.
So far this year, social assistance payments – excluding refugee assistance – have increased by 20 percent.
The numbers indicate that payments for 2009 will likely rise by more than the 18 percent increase forecast by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR).
“The rate of increase doesn’t seem to be slowing down,” SALAR’s Leif Klingensjö told TT.
Most in need of payments are young people and refugees, according to Klingensjö.
He said both groups have difficulties getting into the labour market system during tough economic times, and as a result aren’t able to receive unemployment insurance benefits.
“The biggest problem is getting into the job market. If you haven’t had any contact with the labour market, that’s going to be a problem,” said Klingensjö.
In 276 municipalities, payments increased, while 13 municipalities reported a decrease in payments since the start of the year.
The statistics on Sweden’s social assistance also reveal large differences across the country.
Örebro County in central Sweden had the highest increase in payments during the third quarter, 41 percent, followed by Gävleborg County in eastern Sweden, which saw a 37 percent increase in payments.
In Stockholm, social assistance payments increased by 15 percent during the third quarter.
“One can assume that it has to do with the job market,” Nilsson told the TT news agency.
She added that there may be other connections in explaining the regional differences in social assistance payments such as unemployment insurance payments which have been much lower than both the government and the National Public Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) expected.
According to Nilsson, the increase in social assistance payments may be a related phenomenon.
“There are a lot of people who aren’t members of an unemployment insurance fund (a-kassa), so that connection may exist,” she said.
In addition, it has become harder for people who have lost their jobs to fulfill the conditions required to receive unemployment insurance payments.