Sick benefit claims plateau after falls

The number of Swedes on long-term sick benefits has stabilized after seven years of successive falls, according to official figures released on Tuesday.

The average Swede was off work sick for 6.1 days last year – including both those on long-term leave and those taking occasional sick days. This contrasts with a figure of 15.9 days per year in 2003. The Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) says it expects the figure to drop to 5.1 days by 2014.

“The room for reductions is starting to disappear. There is a lowest possible level. People do get sick and lose their ability to work,” said Mathias Johansson, analyst at the agency.

Johansson said the falls were partly due to changes in public attitudes to sick leave.

“A changed attitude in society has contributed to the fall. This applies to everything from the debate in the media to how politicians and citizens view sick leave.”

The fact that the Social Insurance Agency was brought under centralized national control in 2004-2005 has also helped bring figured down, according to the report. Previously, regional agencies applied varying standards when judging whether people had the right to be off work.

Recent reforms, introduced in 2008, which limited the period for which it was possible be on sick leave, were also thought to have kept the numbers down, although it was so far unclear to what extent this had affected the figures.

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