A challenge for our future

Health and social care for the elderly are important parts of Swedish welfare policy. Of Sweden’s 10 million inhabitants, 20 per cent have passed the standard retirement age of 65. This number is projected to rise to 23 per cent by 2040, partly because of the large number of Swedes born in the 1940s.

Largely funded by taxes

Life expectancy in Sweden is among the highest in the world: 81 years for men and 84 years for women. In Sweden, 5.2 per cent of the population are aged 80, which is slightly more than the EU average of 5.1 per cent. Since more and more citizens in this age group are in good health, their care requirements have declined since the 1980s.

Most elderly care is funded by municipal taxes and government grants. In 2014, the total cost of elderly care in Sweden was SEK 109.2 billion (USD 12.7 billion, EUR 11.7 billion), but only 4 per cent of the cost was financed by patient charges. Healthcare costs paid by the elderly themselves are subsidised and based on specified rate schedules.

Public or private

More municipalities are choosing to privatise parts of their elderly care, letting private care providers run their operations. In 2013, private care provided services for 24 per cent of all elderly people getting home help. All recipients can choose whether they want their home help or special housing to be provided by public or private operators. The municipality always has overall responsibility, however, for areas such as funding and allocating home help or a place in a special housing facility.

The number of private companies in the social service sector increased fivefold between 1995 and 2005. Media investigations have unearthed alarming shortfalls among several private care companies. In subsequent criticism, the companies were accused of letting profit have a negative impact on the standard of care.

The right to live together

Sweden’s Social Services Act states that elderly people who have lived together for an extended period can continue to do so even when one of them needs to move into supported accommodation, a revision from 2012.

How the elderly live

Swedish municipalities planning housing and residential areas are required to ensure that they meet the needs of elderly people and those with disabilities. These accessibility requirements have been given greater prominence in legislation over the years. A growing number of elderly people in Sweden want to live in ‘senior housing’, ordinary homes for people aged 55 and over. In such homes, accessibility is a priority. Some are newly built, while others are regular homes that have been made more accessible as part of conversion or renovation work.

Training programmes for staff

Elderly care today is more advanced and complicated than in the past. Much of the care and treatment once provided in hospitals is now provided in the home, which makes it essential to have efficient, multi-professional teams capable of working with elderly people and their families. To ensure high standards, the government recently invested SEK 1 billion in additional training programmes for staff working in elderly care, and is investing another SEK 180 million in 2016.

Home help makes life easier

One of the aims of elderly care is to help elderly people and those with disabilities live normal, independent lives. This includes living in their own homes as long as possible. Elderly people who continue to live at home can obtain various kinds of support to make life easier. For example, almost all municipalities in Sweden offer ready-cooked meals that can be home-delivered.

In 2014, home help staff assisted around 221,600 people aged 65 or over. Almost half of the country’s municipalities also provide communal meals for the elderly at special day centers, while a few organise small groups of elderly people into teams that cook their own meals.

Around the clock

When an elderly person is no longer able to cope with the demands of everyday life, he or she can apply for assistance from municipally funded home-help services. The extent of such care is subject to an assessment of need. Elderly people with disabilities can receive assistance around the clock, which means that many are able to remain at home throughout their lives. The severely ill, too, can be provided with health and social care in their own homes.

Each municipality decides its own rates for elderly care. The cost depends on such factors as the level or type of help provided and the person’s income. The maximum charge for home help, daytime activities and certain other kinds of care is SEK 1,772 per month (2016).

Municipalities offer daytime activities for elderly and disabled people in need of stimulation and rehabilitation. These activities primarily target those with dementia or mental disabilities. Daytime activities help many to continue to live in their homes.

Transportation services

The elderly and disabled also qualify for transportation services in taxis or specially adapted vehicles. This option is available to those who are unable to travel by regular public transport. In 2014, 11 million such journeys were completed across the country, a national average of 35 per eligible person.

SEK 1 billion invested in skills

Elderly care today is more advanced and complicated than in the past. Much of the care and treatment once provided in hospitals is now provided in the home, which makes it essential to have efficient, multi-professional teams capable of working with elderly people and their families. To ensure high standards, the Government is investing a total of SEK 1 billion in additional training programs in 2011-2014 for staff working in elderly care.

Pensioners moving abroad

In 2010, around 223,000 pensioners in more than 194 countries received payments from the Swedish pension system, an increase of more than 25 per cent on 2005. The majority move to other Nordic countries or to Germany, while many are also attracted to the warmer climes of France, Greece and Italy.

Looking after the interests of pensioners

There are several associations that promote the interests of pensioners, of which the National Pensioners’ Organisation (PRO) is the largest. PRO’s mission is to look after the interests of pensioners in respect of various social issues. Other organizations include the Swedish Pensioners’ Association (SPF) and the Swedish Municipal Pensioners’ Association (SKPF)

Red Cross helping the elderly

The Swedish Red Cross’s most extensive operations involve visits to the elderly. Red Cross volunteers visit elderly people living at home or in different kinds of housing. The visits may include a chat, a walk or accompanying someone on a visit to the doctor or hospital. Each year, Red Cross volunteers make around 30,000 visits to the elderly.

The Swedish pension system

All Swedish citizens are entitled to a national retirement pension after they retire. People can choose to start receiving their pension between the ages of 61 and 67. From 2005 to 2014, the number of working Swedes aged 65–74 increased by as much as 127 per cent. The average retirement age today is 64.5.

There are several different sources that make up a Swedish pension. People who have worked and lived in Sweden will get a national retirement pension based on the income on which they have paid tax. The national retirement pension consists of income pension, premium pension and guarantee pension.

The average national retirement pension in 2014 was SEK 11,093 per month. In addition to the national retirement pension, most people employed in Sweden also get an occupational pension, based on contributions made by their employers.

Altogether, 71 per cent of pensioners’ total income derives from the public pension system. For added security, many choose to supplement their retirement benefits with private pension savings.

Preparations for an ageing population

Like many other countries, Sweden has a growing proportion of elderly people. Elderly care has therefore become increasingly important, and the government has taken steps to meet future challenges in this area.
In 2040, nearly one in four Swedes will be 65 years or older, and most of the people in this age group will be active and healthy. Several initiatives aimed at meeting future needs are now being put in place around the country.

In a 2013 report, the government-appointed Commission on the Future identified a series of challenges that Sweden may be confronted with, including the country’s ageing population.

To meet the coming demographic challenge without jeopardising welfare levels, people will have to work longer. Another report from 2013 suggests a number of measures enabling people to prolong their working life, such as that the earliest age at which people can draw their old age pension should be raised from 61 to 62 and, later, 63. The government recently invested SEK 4.3 billion in measures to improve health and social care for the most infirm members of the 65+ age group. The aim: to improve coordination of home healthcare, elderly care, hospital care and health-center care provided to elderly people.