Dispelling the Swedish myth

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One myth about Sweden is the one of the socialised society where schools, hospitals and care of the elderly is free and open for all and of the highest quality.

As the years have progressed since the haydays of the 50’s and 60’s, this has become a myth – a very stubborn stereotype.

Privatisation and deregulation of education and health care, supported by political parties on both sides of the ideological spectrum, has seen to it that the model of the past is almost unrecognisable today. Many believe that Sweden has sold out their heritage – a unique system based on solidarity has become an individualistic system based on profit and an illusion of free choice.

To start with health care in Sweden is not free. It is cheap, but it’s not free. A visit to the hospital, or the doctor, costs around 200 Swedish crowns. Dental and optical care is astronomical and medicine, though subsidised, is costly.

Many hospitals, medical centes and schools are run for profit. Private shareholders run these services, funded by taxes, and streamline the business in order to take out a profit at the end of the year. This is never more apparent than in the educational branch. In the 90’s a reform allowed for parents and children to choose the school they wanted to go to and that the tax funding for the child’s education would follow them regardless of which school they attended. The reform opened up for so-called ‘free schools’ – privately run enterprises that could offer attractive school services. The more children chose these particular schools, the more income the school would receive in the form of the tax funding that they brought with them. The idea was to improve competition, increase quality and promote choice. And that is great if it works. But time and time again, we see unserious players jumping on the opportunity to make a fast buck and caring too little for the quality of the service they provide their consumers.

Overseas Investors profit from Swedish tax payers. A wave of overseas private venture capitalists have now seen the opportunity to make money out of the school and health care system in Sweden. Funded by Swedish tax payers, they can in a short period make a lot of profit, if they are skilled at cutting back and ‘effectivising’ their service. Making the most money requires that the child’s education, or the elderly person’s care, must take a back seat. If more educated staff are required, or better equipment or premises are needed, this is often not prioritized as it eats directly into shareholder return. There have been cases of schools going bankrupt, leaving thousands of pupils out in the cold – with incomplete education and a sabotaged future.

The question is can this system be maintained and, if so, how is quality ensured so that the lives of children and the sick are not jeopardised for profit?

So, many aspects of the original Swedish social model have been reformed away. While the myth outside of Sweden might be of a systemised caring eutopia, the reality is somewhat different.

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