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Swedes 'clueless' about rise in welfare spending

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Swedes 'clueless' about rise in welfare spending
File photo: Jessica Gow/TT
17:17 CET+01:00
Sweden is spending more money than ever on the public sector according to a new study. But the typical Swede still believes things were better in the eighties.
 
The study, which compared Sweden's welfare services between 1980 and 2012, was carried out by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (Sveriges Kommuner och Landsting - SKL).
 
It was released on Friday together with figures from pollsters Ipsos, which revealed that almost half of Swedes surveyed thought that resources spent in in the public sector were much higher 30 years ago than they are today. 
 
In reality, however, in nearly all areas, there has been an enormous increase in resources spent on education, health, and care for the elderly.
 
Between 1980 and 2012, total spending by Sweden's municipalities increased from 478 billion kronor ($73.5 billion) to 760 billion kronor (using 2012 rates), the equivalent of 1.5 percent per year.
 
At the same time, Sweden's population increased by 0.4 percent a year, meaning municipal sector spending rose roughly a full percentage point faster than the population during the roughly 30 year period.
 
The findings did not come as a surprise to Annika Wallskog, chief economist at SKL, who partly blames the media for Swedes misperception about welfare spending
 
"The picture painted in the Swedish media means that any bad story from the welfare system really blows up, whether it's in schools, elderly care, anywhere" she told The Local.
 
"It's also because people don't realize that it's a slow change. I'm the same myself, when I think back to my school from 30 years ago I think it's exactly the same today as it was then. Of course it's not."
 
The results showed that only ten percent of Swedes surveyed said they thought Sweden was spending more than ever on the public sector.
 
In reality, Sweden has never been spending more money on schooling, social care, and health care. Researchers found that there has been a 68 percent increase in resources in these areas overall, a figure adjusted for inflation. 
 
At the same time, the population of Sweden has shot up 14.5 percent and Swedes are healthier and living longer.
 
Jesper Hansson of the National Institute of Economic Research said that the figures may be correct when it comes to money spent, but added that there are other concerns. 
 
"Salaries have also increased, and we're not getting more employers in the public sector," he told the TT news agency.
 
Wallskog at SKL said demographic trends mean Sweden is going to see increased demands on its welfare system. In addition, Swedes' increasing wealth may also raise expectations about what the state should provide.
 
"We in Sweden came out pretty well following the financial crisis, and we will have high expectations for the welfare system from now on. People want more from welfare the richer they are," she explained, and added that she welcomed a discussion on one condition.
 
"We think it's important to have the debate," she told The Local. "But we also think it should be based on facts."

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