Home Economics Nick Cohen Demands We Should All Be More Like Sweden

Nick Cohen Demands We Should All Be More Like Sweden



I couldn’t possibly name the journalist I spent a happy afternoon sinking pints with who indicated his amusement with Polly Toynbee’s consistent cry that we must be more like Sweden. But then perhaps we should be, as Nick Cohen outlines:

You never hear the Telegraph or the Mail say that we need Swedish levels of sickness benefit to ensure that carriers stay at home and quarantine. Or Swedish levels of housing benefit to ensure that they aren’t evicted from those same homes. The knights of the suburbs do not insist that the hundreds of thousands who will be thrown on the dole in the coming months need Swedish levels of unemployment benefit and an interventionist Scandinavian state to retrain them.

Well, let us think on this. There are certainly parts of the Swedish sick leave system that we should adopt:

However, regardless of whether their sick leave is one or 14 days long, the employer deducts 20% of the first week’s salary (typically the equivalent of the total salary for the first sick day), leaving the employee to carry the cost of the first day of sick leave. (6 § 2 st.) This system was set up to discourage employees from taking sick leave unnecessarily.

That would appear to reduce the incidence of throwing a sickie on Saint Monday perhaps. Good idea, let’s do it.

Swedish housing benefit comes with the occasional limit to it.

If you are between 18 and 28, you can get housing allowance for housing costs exceeding SEK 1,800 and for a maximum surface area of 60 m2 of dwelling space. The most you can receive is SEK 1,300.

Young folks are limited as to what they can have. That works out to around and about – -ish – £400 a month. Which is, amazingly, not too different from the benefits limit which causes so much screaming and shouting in the UK.

Ooops, my mistake. The UK benefits limit is £400 a week, isn’t it, not £400 a month. True, that’s for all benefits not just housing but still. The Swedes do seem to be limiting access to that welfare state in a manner that causes outrage over here.

If you have children under the age of 18 who live with you, you can get housing allowance for housing costs and an allowance because children live or stay to various extents in the household. The amount of the allowance depends on housing costs, the size of the home, household income and number of children.

You only get housing benefit to pay for a house of useful size for the household. That is, they’ve got something akin to that dreaded bedroom tax. The bastards, eh?

On unemployment pay they’re not actually as generous as you might think:

Basic insurance

The remuneration from the basic insurance is SEK 365 per day. It is based on how much you have worked. If you have worked less than full-time or for a shorter time than 12 months, there is a proportionate reduction.

Income-related benefit

The level of benefits you can receive is normally based on your average income over the last 12 months prior to unemployment.

Unemployed days

Remuneration per day


80% of salary


70% of salary

You only get that higher amount, percentage of salary, if you’ve been paying in for 12 months before the unfortunate event. And the tax paid in to gain that coverage is substantial.

And do note something else. Unemployment pay is time limited. After 300 days you don’t get it. Unlike our own dear system where you can rot on it for a lifetime.

So, this Swedish system. Bedroom tax, lower HB for young people, sick pay deliberately designed to discourage sickies, time limits to unemployment pay. All sounds good, when do we start?

Well, probably when Nick Cohen and Polly Toynbee stop screaming blue bloody murder when we decide to become more like Sweden.

And to be ever so slightly more serious. What projectionists of all kinds miss is that these other systems are in fact systems. It’s as with going back to the land and running a smallholding. Peasant technology is a technology, a system. You can’t just have the chooks clucking in the yard. You’ve also got to have the fox killing, the secure barn or coop at night, rotate the cockerel, cheap source of grain, a use for the chicken shit and so on. It’s an integrated technology.

So too other peoples’ benefit systems. Sure, some are more generous. Denmark provides huge unemployment benefits and also training grants and the like. And after 2 years you get nothing. Just nowt. You get ever such a big hand up but no handout. We could copy that, of course we could, but we need to copy the cliff edge as well as the generosity. And so on ad infinitum with every other system. They are systems, they’ve working parts that mesh and rumble on together. Adopting just the one gear wheel of them doesn’t work because that is to fail to understand how the system is working overall.

It would even be possible to persuade me that Britain’s welfare state should be more generous in the amounts it pays out. Significantly more generous indeed – as long as we also got the guillotine on how long the benefits last for. Not an offer I expect to be taken up on mind.

Yes, this also works the other way around. You cannot go to a Hong Kong Glorious Revolution Of The Laissez Faire and have no welfare handout (Hong Kong does have one BTW) and also have a high minimum wage. Because there will be those a high minimum wage prices out of any sort of employment which means some largish number of people condemned to that no welfare.

These are all systems and as systems it is necessary to understand how the parts all work together. We can indeed move from one to the other – much of the world has moved on from the technology of peasant agriculture – but it is necessary to adopt the system as a whole, not just the parts that look politically useful.



  1. We might also consider the Swedish system in respect of educational vouchers and private schools, that would drive the UK left apoplectic. The Guardian etc. often laud the Swedish model, whilst actually not knowing much about Sweden. It is a similar phenomena in regards to the EU, where the same pundits praise its qualities, many of which don’t exist. Sweden and the EU are places of projection and fantasy for certain types, who are too ill-informed to realise that the UK is actually much closer to what they advocate than either Sweden or the EU.

  2. We are all selective in our desires to copy other nations. I find many aspects of Sweden admirable, but would not want Britain to follow Sweden 100% as that would mean allowing the influx of millions (based on relative population sizes) of rapey peasants and fluttering a limp hand over the very real prospect of societal collapse and race replacement.

  3. I do like the way the Swedes went ahead and built all those nuclear power stations. Much cheaper and more sensible than all those stupid wars in the Middle East.

    But I have to agree, looking in the mirror, that we all make stupid mistakes sometimes, as MC has pointed out.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

Support Us

Recent posts

American Hyperconsumerism Is Killing Fewer People!

This report does not say what the Guardian headline writers think it does: Three Americans create enough carbon emissions to kill one person, study finds The...

Contracts Often Lag New Revenue Streams

I've been - vaguely and not with any great interest - anticipating a story like this: Scarlett Johansson sues Walt Disney over Marvel’s Black Widow...

Richard Murphy Rediscovers Monetarism

We have a delightful example of how Richard Murphy simply doesn't understand the basic nuts and bolts of the economics he wants to impose...

Vox Is Missing The Point About Having A Constitution

Not that we should be all that surprised by this from the progressives at Vox. No government- well, no one not controlled by...

So Let’s Have An Elitist Technocracy Instead!

There's been a certain amount - OK, a lot - of squealing in the US about how democracy is the ultimate value and we...

Recent comments