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Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers: Sweden

Will the Recent Reforms Make It?

image of Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers: Sweden

Sickness and disability is a key economic policy concern for many OECD countries. Medical conditions, or problems labelled as such by societies and policy systems, are proving an increasing obstacle to raising labour force participation and keeping public expenditure under control. More and more people of working age rely on sickness and disability benefits as their main source of income, and the employment rates of those reporting disabling conditions are low. This report is an assessment of the Swedish reforms, which aim to lower inactivity and increase participation, against the background of recent trends and policy responses in other OECD countries. It looks at what Sweden is currently doing and what more it could do to transform its sickness and disability schemes from passive benefits to active support systems that promote work.    

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Executive Summary

Sweden is currently undertaking a series of extensive reforms to address long-term structural problems with its sickness and disability policies. A new sick-leave process with a much stricter timeline for work-capacity assessment has been put in place to facilitate the return to work. The changes are far-reaching and in the right direction but given the breadth of reform and the size of the problem, implementation remains a big challenge. More could and needs to be done to ensure that the reforms live up to their promise. In particular, financial incentives remain weak for most players, particularly employers and the health system. Co-operation among the key institutional actors also needs to be strengthened in some areas.

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