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POLITICS

What do Sweden’s foreign residents think of government plans for extra paid leave for parents?

After Sweden's government proposed an extra week's paid leave for parents of young children, we asked our readers what you thought of the policy.

What do Sweden's foreign residents think of government plans for extra paid leave for parents?
Under new proposals, parents would get three days of extra paid leave, or six if they are sole caregivers of a child aged 4-16. Photo: Karin Enge Vivar/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

The proposals would give parents three days off work at 80 percent of their pay, or six days for those who are sole caregivers of children aged four to 16. The aim is to improve work-life balance and give working parents extra time to attend parent-teacher conferences or other events, for example.

We heard from 75 foreigners living in Sweden, including 30 who had children in the 4-16 age range, 21 who said they did not currently have children in the affected age range but might do in future (for example, parents of children aged under four as well as people who hoped to become parents in future), and 24 who did not expect to benefit from the policy (whether they had children aged over 16 or did not plan to have children). 

The survey was not scientific, but among those who responded a majority were in favour of the proposals, with 50 saying they felt “mostly positive” about the idea of a family week, compared to 16 who felt “mostly negative” and nine who said they were “unsure”.

Those who had children in the 4-16 age group or said they might do in future were most likely to feel positive about the proposals, with 25 out of 30 and 17 out of 21 of these respective groups saying they felt mostly positive, compared to only eight of the 24 who did not expect ever to benefit from the policy.

Several respondents praised the initiative as supporting family life, with a large number of readers describing it as “progressive”.

“Any initiative that increases the amount of quality time spent with family is welcome,” said Haris, a developer from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Family week is a good idea, especially in my case as I am an international resident. I will make use of it so that I can spend it with my kid and my parents together during my visit to my home country. My kid is missing growing up with grandparents and cousins.” said a reader who asked to remain anonymous, who works in IT and has an 11-year-old.

“Even in family-friendly Sweden, being a working parent is tough. An extra few days a year to spend with one’s children can only be good for everybody, surely? It feels a lot like those opposing the measure would also have opposed extended parental leave, subsidised childcare, VAB… the things that make Sweden a great place to raise children and, you know, actually be a child,” said British reader Jack, who has a child but is not yet in the age range for family week.

But some were sceptical that the policy would have a tangible impact.

“Money down the drain that could be put to much better use elsewhere. Sweden already has one of the most generous parental welfare systems in the world. It is an additional burden also for employers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises who need stability and productivity instead of even more absenteeism,” commented Tony, a retiree who has lived in Sweden for three decades.

“It strikes me as being somewhat of a token policy that will have little positive impact in reality,” said a Swedish mother of two who would be eligible for the extra days’ leave but said she felt “unsure” about whether it was a good move.

Some respondents argued that the family week proposals were based on an outdated definition of family, including several who said that they felt “mostly positive” about the plans but questioned why the benefit would be limited to parents of young children, rather than those with parents to care for, or siblings, nephews, nieces or grandchildren to spend time with.

“Given that people can be families without children, and that families with children aren’t the only ones in need of improved work-life balance, I don’t understand why this proposal is so narrow in scope. However, such a week for everyone would be nice,” an American programmer, who asked to remain anonymous, commented.

“We without children also pay taxes and I think there should be a way to extend this benefit to everyone. Furthermore, parents in Sweden already enjoy a great parental leave benefit compared to many other countries” said a 33-year-old Mexican reader.

One reader, who asked to remain anonymous, was disappointed that little was being done to support people who want to have children but are unable to do so without medical support, noting that over the past year there have been severe shortages of donor sperm at Sweden’s publicly funded fertility clinics.

“This, along with absurd waiting times, has forced patients to seek care in the private sector or abroad even though they have the right to publicly funded treatment. It’s bad enough that patients are having to pay for private treatment because there isn’t enough capacity in the public sector. It just adds insult to injury that those taxes will go to support families with children,” the reader said.

And several readers suggested alternative policies that would improve their lives more effectively than the proposed extra days at 80 percent pay.

“I feel that work-life balance works very well today, with companies already being very flexible. I feel there are better things to focus on like for example the unpaid sick day. Or other areas like building up our basic infrastructure where everyone benefits, not just those fortunate to have kids,” said Mark, a 29-year-old from Ireland.

“I think the current parental and annual leave are generous enough,” said a 38-year-old reader from India, who has children in the four to 16 age group. “One shouldn’t need to take days off for work-life balance but rather focus on increasing productivity and flexibility for employees.”

“It’s unnecessary for the majority of people, I would prefer the money to be spent supporting the school system” said James, a Brit who will be eligible for the time off under the family week proposals.

Thanks to everyone who took part in the survey for sharing your thoughts. Please note that this was not scientific: we asked our readers to share their thoughts on the family week proposals, and closed the survey after we had received 75 responses. It was optional for respondents to share information about their age and nationality, and those who chose to share this information came from at least 21 different countries, and were aged between 22 and 60. The comments published here are intended as a representative sample of the responses we received.

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FAMILY

How Sweden’s gender-equal divorce law can leave women worse off

Sweden is often lauded as being gender-equal, reflected in Swedish divorce law. But that doesn't mean that Sweden is the best place for women to get divorced, as Sarah Jefford discovered following her split three years ago.

How Sweden's gender-equal divorce law can leave women worse off

Moving to a new country can bring enough turmoil, stress, and culture shock to put a marriage through its paces.  Causes of divorce and separation among native Swedes and immigrant partners include emotional estrangement, loneliness, and a lack of independence in a new country. But what happens when a Swede and foreign spouse decide to split up in Sweden when they share a child?

For expats enduring a divorce to a native in Sweden, separation can be especially acrimonious if children are involved and one of the plaintiffs is financially and civically dependent on the other.

Immigrant divorce rates in Sweden are around 15 percent higher than native Swedish divorce rates and marriages between a Swede and a foreigner are between a quarter and two-and-a-half times more likely to end in divorce than those between two Swedes, according to a study by Martin Dribe, Professor of Economic History at Lund University.

British expat, Sarah Jefford, considers herself, since her split nearly three years back, to be trapped in Sweden, destitute, and fighting to be able to leave the country with her son to return back home to family and friends to rebuild a life for themselves. She would like other expats to know what they’re getting into with regards to absence of alimony and child support in Sweden.

“It’s not that good towards women”

She tells the Local that “expats should realise this because Sweden is super popular at the moment, you hear constantly in the papers that it is such a civil society–fantastic for women, the kids, and an equal society? Well, these are the disadvantages of an equal society. And the truth is that it’s not that good towards women.”

She met her Swedish husband, a pension fund CIO, in Switzerland and they married in the UK. Happy with the course their burgeoning family was on, she agreed to put her own job as a winemaker on hold and move to Sweden to follow her husband’s career together with their child in 2014.

She could never imagine it would end in divorce, let alone that she would find herself struggling to make ends meet and look after her child after her husband walked out amidst an office affair nearly three years ago.  Though they share joint custody and despite his wealthy career managing a top Swedish pension fund, her ex refuses to financially support their son, now 14, who lives with her.

Photo: Sarah Jefford

“It did not occur to me that were I to get divorced it would be the law of the country of residence that I would be subject to and not the UK, my home country, the country where I got married.”

Swedish law stipulates that joint assets (those acquired during the marriage) are split in half when a couple divorces in Sweden. Unlike in the UK or North America, there is no division of pension and alimony is not available. There is no child allowance if the children spend one week with one parent and one week with the other (regardless if one of the parties has no income).

Should a child live with one parent full-time, the other must pay child support.  The amount varies according to the child’s age. 1,673 kronor until the child becomes 11, 1,823 kronor till the child turns 15, and 2,273 after that. Försäkringskassan (the Swedish Social Insurance Agency) estimates how much the non-custodial parent must pay to Försäkringskassan. 

In Sweden, there are other options for dealing with issues regarding property partition and child custody arrangements, family mediation and constructive dialogue are advised tactics. The European e-Justice portal includes a comprehensive description of divorce law and settlement procedures in English.

In Jefford’s case she claims 1,823 kronor (about €170) a month for her 14-year-old child through the agency.

“So the Försäkringskassa pays me and then goes after my ex for the money.  As a result, there is no child support or alimony depending on the parent’s income. How should I bring up a teenager with that? I mean it it barely pays for the fancy sneakers that teenagers like so much, and definitely does not cover their food and they eat like horses at that age.”

Jefford’s business as a wine educator has suffered immensely during the pandemic, and she finds it near impossible to keep up with the price of living in Stockholm whilst supporting her child.  She has been scraping by working as a substitute teacher and doing sporadic odd jobs which she says she can’t survive off, or pay rent with, or get bank loans for a mortgage. 

Feeling completely stuck, Jefford says that had she known about Swedish divorce laws and the fact that they are legally binding in the place of residence, she would have “never moved here, or got married.”

Jefford recalls friends in France and Switzerland being gobsmacked by her predicament:

“Foreigners are envious of Sweden’s generous parental leave, and that’s talked about a lot. So the focus is on Sweden being an amazing country, because you get this parental leave, right?”

“But it blurs the fact that other problems with the system going towards total equality are actually misguided in a way. Great, you know, equal pay and opportunities for men and women. I’m all for that, of course.  But it doesn’t always work–you have to take into consideration circumstances.  I think the system of equality works if everybody is equal in life, or has the same advantages and has the same kind of life and opportunities.”

“But if you don’t have that, if you don’t come from that, then that system doesn’t work and is unfair. That’s how I see it. And I think it’s really scary.”

By Matthew Weaver

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