Sweden has been called the model welfare state; every citizen is guaranteed a minimum subsistence income and medical care. Social welfare legislation was introduced relatively early and was greatly expanded after World War II. The system is financed partly by insurance premium payments and partly by state and local taxation. Basic benefits are often increased by cost-of-living supplements. In 1999 Sweden implemented a new social insurance system that provides for mandatory private accounts that allow workers to decide how to invest up to 2% of their retirement reserves.
Old-age pensions are paid to all residents 65 years of age or older, but an earlier retirement is possible, with a reduction in pension benefits. Under the new system, there is a flexible retirement age, starting from 61, and is funded by 6.95% of employee earnings and 6.4% of employer payroll. Unemployment insurance is administered by the trade unions and provides benefits according to salary to those who voluntarily enroll. Unemployment relief, through monetary assistance or public works, is provided by the central government or by state-subsidized municipalities.
Compulsory health service was introduced in 1955. Hospital care is free for up to two years. Medical services and medicines are provided at substantially reduced rates or, in some cases, without charge. In the event of illness, employed persons and women staying at home to raise children receive cash payments and get further benefits according to income. Costs of confinement and maternity allowances for women are covered by health insurance. There is also a national program of dental insurance.
Workers' compensation is coordinated with the national health service scheme. This type of insurance, financed entirely by employers, covers work time as well as travel to and from work for all employees. Benefits include free medical treatment, medicines, and appliances. Annuities are paid to persons permanently disabled, and funeral benefits and pensions to dependents are provided in case of death. Public assistance is provided for blind or infirm persons confined to their homes and to people who are in sanitariums, special hospitals, or charitable institutions. The social services also help meet the costs of rearing children. Family allowances are set at Kr—950 a month per child under age 16.
The law requires women to have equal opportunities and equal pay. Despite these legal protections, women are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs, and often receive less pay for equal work. The Equal Opportunity Ombudsman, a government official, reviews equality plans required by employers and investigates allegations of gender discrimination. Violence against women, primarily spousal abuse, persists, although the government has many programs to deal with these issues. The laws protect women, and shelters and other assistance to victims is available. Strict laws protecting children from abuse are also in effect.
There is general tolerance for religious and ethnic minorities, although right-wing and neo-nazi activities are reported. The government protects and supports minority languages. Human rights are deeply respected in Sweden.