Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers Sweden - Will the recent reforms make it?


Previous and forthcoming reports I Press release I Figures and Statistics


Published: 04/03/2009

51 pages

Free of charge (.pdf)

How is it possible for average health status to improve while many workers continue to leave the labour market permanently due to health problems, forced to rely on welfare to survive? At the same time, many working-age adults with reduced work capacity are denied the opportunity to work. This social and economic tragedy is common to virtually all OECD countries, including Sweden. It is a paradox that warrants explaining as well as innovative action.

This single-country report in the OECD series Sickness, Disability and Work explores some of the reasons behind this phenomena in Sweden and the potential of its innovative recent and ongoing reforms, for example with regard to sickness absence and benefit policy, to lower inactivity and increase participation. The report includes a range of recommendations to address evident and foreseeable gaps, with consideration to broader impacts from the global financial crises on the Swedish economy.

Since 2006 when Sweden had the highest level of dependence on sickness and disability benefits in the OECD (14% of the working age population), significant reforms have taken place to address structural issues dating back to the mid-1990s when a shift from unemployment benefits occurred. The hitherto time-unlimited sickness benefit was capped to six months and those no longer eligible becoming expected to seek to continue work in an amended or different job, including in one with a different employer if necessary. This reform is particularly significant because it aims to address one of the key problems affecting many other countries: people holding on to the wrong jobs for too long.

This report concludes that further change is needed to ensure that the reforms live up to their promise. Responsibilities and financial incentives for some of the key actors, particularly employers and the health care system, and co-operation among some institutional actors, all have to be strengthened.

Underlying figures and statistics (.xls)

Figure 1.1. The four waves of incapacity benefit growth until 2004
Figure 1.2.


A strong positive correlation between unemployment and disability across Swedish regions

Figure 1.3.


Sickness trend no longer follows the employment trend in recent years
Figure 1.4 Sickness absence was very high in 2003 and remains so by international standards
Figure 1.5.

Sweden is still the leader in long-term sickness absence

Figure 1.6. Large fluctuations in disability benefit inflow in Sweden
Figure 1.7.

Sweden has recorded the largest increase in disability benefit recipiency since 2000

Figure 1.8.

Mental health conditions are now the key concern in all OECD countries

Figure 1.9. Outflow rates from disability benefits are low but have increased in Sweden recently

Figure 1.10.



Employment is low and unemployment high, but incomes are also high and poverty is low

All Figures

All 10 above figures as (.zip)


Previous and forthcoming reports


This publication is a single-country report following the series of three comparative report on sickness and disability policies in selected OECD countries.

The three comparative reports will be followed by a synthesis report that will summarise the lessons learned in the course of the thematic review.

Press Release

Press release: Sweden’s sickness and disability reforms on track but could be improved, says OECD

Powerpoint Presentation