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ALMOST PARADISE? A look at life in contemporary Sweden from a citizens perspective Memphis in May International Teachers Conference Focus on Sweden Memphis,

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Presentation on theme: "ALMOST PARADISE? A look at life in contemporary Sweden from a citizens perspective Memphis in May International Teachers Conference Focus on Sweden Memphis,"— Presentation transcript:

1 ALMOST PARADISE? A look at life in contemporary Sweden from a citizens perspective Memphis in May International Teachers Conference Focus on Sweden Memphis, TN February 23, 2013 Susan L. Holmberg, Ph.D. Visiting Scholar, Department of Scandinavian Studies University of Washington Seattle, WA

2 CONTENTS 1.Utopian aspects of life in Sweden (from US perspective) a)Health care b)Family policy c)Democracy 2.Shadows on the horizon


4 Health care: Equal access key to keeping Sweden healthy Everyone in Sweden has equal access to health care services under a largely decentralized, taxpayer-funded system. Like many other countries, Sweden faces numerous challenges, such as funding, quality and efficiency of its health care services. (from Fact Sheet on Health Care, Swedish Institute,



7 Price Ceilings (in US Dollars) ItemMaximum costs MedicationMax $328.00 /year Doctor visits (GP)Max $30.00 (free after total $164.00 spent) Specialist visits, ER visit$44.80 Hospital visit$12/day (first 10 days), then $9/day Diagnostic tests (pap smear, pregnancy test, other regular tests) without doctors appointment $15.00 Conversion rate: SEK 100 = $15.13 Average net annual income in Sweden = $ 34, 920


9 What the pharmacist told me… After explaining my initial idea of asking pharmacy customers to guess how much Americans pay for the medications they are picking up, a pharmacist told me: They wont be able to make a guess because they dont need to think about it like that. There is a price ceiling above which they do not spend any money, regardless of the type of medicine. Exact ceiling level is set at the county or municipal level: no higher than SEK 2,200 ($328.00) per year

10 The best feature of the Swedish system is… Male, 20s..that it doesnt cost money, you just pay one fee and its protected Male, 50s …that it is available to everyone – everyone has a right to health care Male, 70s...when you are sick you are well taken care of – one need never worry that one cannot afford care Female, 70s …all citizens are covered, if you are born here you have a right to it Female, 20s..that you dont have to pay much, like in some other countries… Male, 60s..that it is open for everyone, regardless of your social position, it makes no difference if you are rich or poor

11 The worst feature of the Swedish system is… Male, 20s..that it can be uneven quality at different clinics… Male, 50s …the long waiting periods, several hands working together so it takes time (?) Male, 70s …that everything is being cut back to save money because of the increasing costs, new machines, equipment so expensive Female, 70s …that its gotten worse over time, long waiting periods, lines, even cancer care can take up to 2 or weeks.. Female, depends, Ive heard bad things about some clinics where they dont greet you well Male, 60s..that doctors are not on a fixed schedule like other health care employees – most Landsting dont have enough doctors, causes long waits


13 Child Allowance All children are entitled to tax-free allowance ($164/mo) until the age of 16* * Note that additional money is given per additional child

14 Study Allowance At 16, children in school receive study allowance (SEK 1050/mo except July and August) until they are 20 years old, provided they are studying full time

15 Paid Parental Leave A total of 480 paid days provided to parents

16 Free Daycare Children between the ages of 1 and 5 National standards

17 Free Education Tuition-free schooling from primary through PhD levels Free lunch for K-12


19 Voter Turnout Sweden maintains relatively high levels of voter turnout, generally above 80% over the past 60+ years

20 Political Parties Proportional Representation system with 4% minimum to gain representation in Parliament (or local, regional legislatures)

21 Party Distribution in Parliament following 2010 election

22 Level playing field All parties receive funding for election campaign Interest representation generally inclusive, collective – lobbying in the US sense does not exist Restrictions on political advertising on commercial (and public service) television and radio – campaigns not dominated by TV ads as in US In Sweden, money is not as necessary a precondition for political mobilization as it is in the US

23 Independent, accountable media Public service broadcasting in Sweden is oldest and most trustworthy source of political information

24 Funded 100% by license fees (BBC model), not taxes or advertising This keeps broadcast budgets independent of political alignments in Parliament It also maintains independence from corporations (i.e no advertising) Financial and editorial independence

25 Accountability and transparency Because it is funded by the public, program content must maintain certain standards of quality and responsibility – in news reporting, standards of impartiality and substance are required


27 Health care Aging population with low population growth Increasing costs for medical equipment and medication Provision of quality across the board, in urban and rural areas, wealthier and poorer neighborhoods Recruitment of quality medical personnel – doctors, nurses, technicians and home help/elder care

28 Family Policy benefits addiction? Extensive and generous universal benefits are costly, but expectation and sense of entitlement are deeply entrenched curling generation might not be motivated to work, sacrifice for others Parental leave creates uneven pockets in the workforce, increases need for temporary workers

29 Democracy Recent decades have seen rise in right wing extremism, reactions against influx of immigrants and refugees – Sweden Democrat Party now established in Parliament and regional governments American style politics in the form of lobbying and political advertising are edging into the Swedish system The media landscape is rapidly changing, becoming increasingly commercial - public service is struggling to maintain its prominence and the license fee is a recurring issue

30 SUMMARY To an American, life in Sweden can seem like a dream or fantasy where many of the economic burdens of everyday life simply dont exist Health care is practically free across the board, with price ceilings and protections, along with guarantees of quality treatment for all All children receive money each month and free school lunch, along with free schooling, and parents are given a year and a half of paid leave when a child is born Political participation is widespread and inclusive, and political discourse takes place in a (relatively) responsible and ethical media environment One of the main challenges for the future is maintaining this high level of universal benefits and guarantees, all of which are tax-based – without universal benefits, the consensus to contribute (and receive benefits) may erode Another major challenge to the Swedish paradise is creeping intolerance against outsiders, particularly non-European ethnic groups, as competition for scarce resources increases

31 For more information, try the following links - The Swedish Institute Home Page (Gateway to Sweden) – The Swedish Parliament – the Riksdag The Swedish National Institute of Public Health Statistics Sweden - The Swedish Social Insurance Agency The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions The National Board of Health and Welfare The Government Offices of Sweden

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