In rural areas, however, the number of people who headed back to work failed to increase, the Swedish Social Insurance Inspectorate (Inspektionen för socialförsäkringen – ISF), reported on Wednesday.
“We see clear signs that more are returning to work due to the time limits. One can say that the time limits mean that those who can return to work do so,” said ISF researcher Pathric Hägglund to the TT news agency.
The ISF, which came into being in July 2009, is charged with carrying out independent reviews of how Sweden’s social insurance system is administered.
It was created in part to examine the results of sweeping changes to Sweden’s sick leave rules which went into force in July 2008 on the initiative of the centre-right Alliance government.
According to the tougher rules, people on long-term sick leave undergo an examination after three months to determine whether they can return to their old workplace, either in their former role or in some other role.
After six months, they undergo another examination to determine their capacity to find any job in the labour market.
In addition, the length of time a person can receive sickness benefits amounting to about 80 percent of earnings is limited to 364 days during a 450-day period.
In some cases, people are then allowed to receive extended sick benefits, which are capped at 75 percent of earnings, for an additional 550 days. People with illnesses deemed to be serious or chronic, however, can continue to receive full benefits for an unlimited amount of time.
In ISF’s report, Hägglund looked into what happened when people receiving benefits underwent their six-month review.
According to the study, about 60 percent more people receiving sickness benefits returned to work after six months after the new rules went into force.
The study also revealed, however, that most of the people who returned to work lived in large cities. Among residents in rural areas there was no marked increase in the number of people returning to work.
“In an average rural municipality there was no effect. That can have to do with the fact that the job market is a little worse in rural areas. It can also have to do with norms,” said Hägglund.
Effects of the new rules were also larger among older workers than younger workers, which Hägglund believes may have to do with the fact that older workers are better rooted in the job market.