Number of young Swedes in ‘early retirement’ soars

Since the centre-right Alliance coalition first took power in Sweden more than four years ago, the number of young people receiving disability pension payments has increased by nearly 50 percent, which the social security minister called a "political catastrophe."

Young people who end up taking the benefits include those who attend special schools for the mentally disabled or require several extra years to complete upper secondary school and receive special compensation instead of student loans, newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) reported on Wednesday.

Social Security Minister Ulf Kristersson pointed out that a number of these individuals leave the labour market with relatively unclear psychiatric diagnoses instead of receiving help from employers.

He added that the solution to their mental illness cannot be that they will never work, calling it “inhumane,” according to the report.

Even at the end of 2006, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt lamented the large number of young people who were ‘retiring’ from the workforce and instead receiving sick or disability benefits.

“It is clear that it is not good. It must be very odd for those who are 25 years old and are told that ‘as we see it, you have clearly worked,'” he told news agency TT at the time.

That year, 4,500 young people under 30 years old took what were then termed “early retirement” benefits (förtidspension).

By last year, the number had risen to 6,700, according to preliminary statistics from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan).

The ruling Alliance coalition is now expressing its dismay at the high number in even stronger terms.

“We cannot continue to put young people on disability benefits who will never come off of them, it is unfair. It is a political catastrophe,” Kristersson told SvD on Tuesday.

He emphasised that it is not about “forcing someone into the labour market.”

“This will be done carefully,” he promised.

However, the minister’s goal remained clear.

“I want to bring down the number of new young people taking on disability pensions by a couple thousand a year. It will be one of my biggest political challenges,” Kristersson told SvD.

Kristersson has pledged to reduce the number of young people receiving the benefits by one-third this year, according to SvD.

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Unemployment up among immigrant youth: report

Youth unemployment among immigrants has risen sharply despite a record number of vacancies in the Swedish labour market.

Unemployment up among immigrant youth: report

Unemployment among foreign-born young people has increased by more than three percent over the past year at the same time as it has declined by ten percent among Sweden-born.

“They are a vulnerable group with a fragile educational background which we have seen find it hard to take advantage of the upswing,” said Tord Strannefors, forecasting director at the National Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen).

More than every fifth young person with an immigrant background lacks high school qualifications and twice as many get stuck in long-term unemployment in comparison with Sweden-born counterparts.

“This is serious. There is a risk that will be excluded from the labor market,” Strannefors said.

Many also feel discriminated against because of their background.

“Sweden has great ambitions for integration. But there is nothing in practice,” said one young job-seeker.

“Employers must get accustomed to having people with different backgrounds in the workplace. Many have never had it, they hire through their own networks and then it is only Swedes.”

The image of the fragmented labor market is both alarming and of concern, according to Sweden’s integration minister Erik Ullenhag.

“If you as a young and foreign-born do not secure a foothold in the labor market the risk is that you feel a very weak connection to society. You feel that that there is no future,” Ullenhag said.

The reasons behind the increase in unemployment within the group is explained by the international crisis and economic downturn, Ullenhag said.

“We know that in a situation where the economy is declining, it is mainly young and foreign-born who are not able to establish themselves or remain in the workforce.”

Ullenhag identified education and schools as having a key role.

“To break the cycle more investments are required. Secondary schools have a key role, as well as an apprentice system that will soon be launched in full,” he said.

Ullenhag also said that a review of the system of income support (socialbidrag) could be required.

“This is a group that is likely to be dependent on income support and there we need to consider whether we can have a clearer line on jobs.”