‘Alarm bells should ring’: New study sheds light on problems in Sweden’s vulnerable areas

One in 18 of Sweden's residents lives in a so-called vulnerable area, where criminality is higher than average and trust in authorities lower. A new study reveals how political priorities differ in these neighbourhoods compared to the general population.

'Alarm bells should ring': New study sheds light on problems in Sweden's vulnerable areas
People attend the Järvaveckan political week in 2019, one holding a pamphlet with the slogan 'Who cares'. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

In general, people in these areas said there have been positive developments in police work over the past five years, but negative trends in criminality. And their trust in Swedish media, politicians, and local authorities was much lower than for the Swedish population as a whole.

In the report, carried out by Novus on behalf of The Global Village Foundation, residents of 60 socioeconomically vulnerable areas were asked about how things had developed in these areas, and their relationship with different Swedish authorities.

Almost half (46 percent) thought that over the past five years things had got worse when it came to crime.

People in these areas were significantly more likely than the general population to have personal experience of crime.

Three times as many respondents had experienced or knew someone who had experienced a shooting (17 percent), twice as many knew someone who had been affected by religious radicalisation (13 percent) and twice as many for so-called honour violence (6 percent). 

Looking only at the figures for young men from vulnerable areas, these figures were even higher: 43 percent had witnessed or knew someone who had witnessed drug selling, and the equivalent figures were 21 percent for shootings, 30 percent for assault and 17 percent for radicalisation.

Skäggetorp in Linköping is one of the 60 areas. Photo: Jeppe Gustafsson / TT

People in vulnerable areas were also exposed to discrimination to a higher extent: 36 percent personally knew someone who had experienced discrimination, compared to 27 percent in the general population. Among young adults (18-29 years), 45 percent had personally experienced or know someone who had been discriminated against.

One promising finding was that over half (53 percent) of those surveyed said that police development was moving in the right direction over the past five years. That figure was almost twice as high as for the general population, only 24 percent of whom thought police work had improved.

In recent years, police and other emergency services have worked hard to build trust in these neighbourhoods. Part of this is simply identifying the socioeconomically areas, which have been categorised since 2015 – although some local authorities have called for the list not to be made public due to the stigma associated with the label.

Police have also focused on working closely with local communities including through school visits and supporting local business owners. 

In vulnerable areas, residents said they believed the top three political issues for Sweden were healthcare, immigration, and schools, and that the top issues for their neighbourhood were law and order, schools, and integration.

Those are more or less the same top issues as for the Swedish population as a whole, with one important difference: integration was a higher priority for those in vulnerable areas.

Among the general population, the top issues for Sweden were reported as healthcare, immigration, and the labour market, and within their own neighbourhood schools, law and order, and immigration.

There were also key differences in levels of trust for different institutions.

Almost two thirds (64 percent) had high trust in police, compared to 41 percent trust for the Swedish media and just 47 percent trust in the government. And nearly two thirds of those surveyed said that there was too great a distance between Swedish politicians and ordinary citizens.

This was backed up by the fact that only 26 percent of those surveyed said they personally knew a politician, compared to 45 percent of people living in Sweden as a whole. Respondents were significantly more likely to answer 'yes' to that question if they had a high level of education or were born in Sweden.

Fittja in southern Stockholm. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

People in vulnerable areas were also less likely to know a CEO (32 percent compared to 61 percent of the general population, and 28 percent for 18-29-year olds in vulnerable areas compared to 41 percent of the same age group in the general population).

“When young people are more likely to witness criminal acts than running into a politician or CEO, alarms should ring loudly. We need to address these issues if we want to secure the future of our democracy and have a socially sustainable development,” said the Global Village Foundation's director Ahmed Abdirahman.

He said that he hoped more politicians and CEOs would participate in Järvaveckan 2021 – a week-long political festival held in the suburbs, which attracts representatives from Sweden's major parties. 

“We need to understand the importance of role models and diversity. My recommendation to government agencies, politicians and the business sector is to recruit diverse and to engage these communities – it’s not just about trust in agencies, it’s about trust in democracy and has long term consequences. People have to recognise themselves, it's very important to have diversity in a democracy and society,” Abdirahman explained.

“Trust is low in many different government agencies and in the government itself compared to the general population, but one area that sticks out is trust for nonprofit organisations – that's much higher than among the general population.

“Sweden is a country where education is free and so on, but it's not about the beautiful words in the constitution, it's about how we enact those values and whether the opportunities are there in practice,” he explained. “I believe and hope they want to improve relationships, but I want to see it happening.”


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Swedish Green leader: ‘Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity’

The riots that rocked Swedish cities over the Easter holidays were nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, but instead come down to class, the joint leader of Sweden's Green Party has told The Local in an interview.

Swedish Green leader: 'Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity'

Ahead of a visit to the school in Rosengård that was damaged in the rioting, Märta Stenevi said that neither the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan, who provoked the riots by burning copies of the Koran, nor those who rioted, injuring 104 policemen, were ultimately motivated by religion. 

“His demonstration had nothing to do with religion or with Islam. It has everything to do with being a right extremist and trying to to raise a lot of conflict between groups in Sweden,” she said of Paludan’s protests. 

“On the other side, the police have now stated that there were a lot of connections to organised crime and gangs, who see this as an opportunity to raise hell within their communities.”

Riots broke out in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Stockholm, Norrköping, Linköping and Landskrona over the Easter holidays as a result of Paludan’s tour of the cities, which saw him burn multiple copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. 


More than 100 police officers were injured in the riots, sparking debates about hate-crime legislation and about law and order. 

According to Stenevi, the real cause of the disorder is the way inequality has increased in Sweden in recent decades. 

“If you have big chasms between the rich people and poor people in a country, you will also have a social upheaval and social disturbance. This is well-documented all across the world,” she says. 
“What we have done for the past three decades in Sweden is to create a wider and wider gap between those who have a lot and those who have nothing.” 

The worst way of reacting to the riots, she argues, is that of Sweden’s right-wing parties. 
“You cannot do it by punishment, by adding to the sense of outsider status, you have to start working on actually including people, and that happens through old-fashioned things such as education, and a proper minimum income, to lift people out of their poverty, not to keep them there.”

This, she says, is “ridiculous”, when the long-term solution lies in doing what Sweden did to end extreme inequality at the start of the 20th century, when it created the socialist folkhem, or “people’s home”. 

“It’s easy to forget that 100 to 150 years ago, Sweden was a developing country, with a huge class of poor people with no education whatsoever. And we did this huge lift of a whole nation. And we can do this again,” she says. “But it needs resources, it needs political will.”