The welfare state

Last updated: 24 6 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about the Swedish welfare state. It describes what a welfare state is and how Swedish politicians introduced reforms to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor in order create a safe, secure and equal society.

It also describes how the Swedish state takes a considerable responsibility for maintaining the welfare level, with examples of how Sweden has chosen to organise several important public services.

What are affluent societies and welfare states?

Countries where there are schools, preschools, hospitals, sheltered housing, a good communications network, etc. are often referred to as affluent societies, whose citizens enjoy a high level of welfare. Many countries have a high level of welfare, but different countries choose different ways of creating welfare and organising society.

There are moments in everyone's life where we need help from the public services. We may become ill or have an accident. You may need an operation, or you may be pregnant and about to give birth. If you get a serious illness, the medical care you need will be expensive. If you lose your job, you may not have enough money to pay for food and rent. In Sweden, we have built a society and public services that ensure that you get help if you need it.

In Sweden, the state takes a great deal of responsibility for you as a resident of the country. You must have a basic income and be able to live well even if you are unemployed, ill, or not earning very much money. Countries that have chosen to pay for welfare with taxpayers' money are known as welfare states.

  • Questions to think about

    What is meant by an affluent society?

    Can you give any examples of help that you could receive from the public services?

In an affluent society everyone has to help out. We can do so in different ways. One way is for all of us to help pay for things that everyone needs, which we do by paying tax. Everyone who lives in the country has to pay taxes to the state. Companies also pay taxes and charges to the state. Taxes in Sweden are high compared with many other countries because we have chosen to have the state pay for schools, medical care and many other things through taxes.

  • At school, you are educated by teachers without having to pay anything. The teachers' salaries are paid with tax revenues, which is the money the state collects in taxes.
  • When you become ill, you receive care at a medical care centre or in a hospital. That care is paid for with tax revenues.
  • If a road requires repairs in order for us to continue using it, those repairs are paid for with tax revenues.

There are many other things that are paid for with tax revenues, such as:

  • Elderly care
  • Childcare
  • Social services
  • The judicial system
  • Refugee reception
  • Culture

Other countries have chosen to organise welfare in a different way. In many of those countries, people do not pay as much in taxes to the state, which means they get to keep more of the money they earn. But in those countries, things such as medical care and schools are not always free. People there may have to save money for many years in order for their children to go to school, and they may have to pay a lot for care if they become ill. That, in turn, may mean that not all ill people get the care they need.

It is good for Sweden and for Swedish welfare if as many people as possible in the country are healthy and feeling well. That means more people can work and pay taxes and contribute to welfare.

  • Questions to think about

    How much does a doctor's appointment cost in Sweden?

    How much does a surgical operation cost?

    How much do they cost in the country or countries where you lived previously?

An important goal in Sweden is that everyone in the country should be able to read, write and do arithmetic. That is why school is free of charge for all children in Sweden and why all children have an equal right to go to school. In fact, all children have to attend school for ten years in Sweden – schooling is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. Studying at a university college or university is also free of charge.

In a welfare state, the state takes responsibility for you when you grow old. The state saves some of its tax revenues so that there will be money for you when you stop working. When you do, the state pays money to you every month in what is known as a pension.

Above, we have given some examples of how Sweden's welfare state works. In order for it to be possible to work, everyone who is able to has to work and pay taxes. Paying taxes also helps the state defend and realise everyone's human rights. Tax revenue is used to ensure that we have a judicial system, medical care services and education, for example.

  • Questions to think about

    Paying taxes to the state allows it to pay for medical care and education, for example. Can you give any other examples of things the state pays for?