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Emergence of a Welfare State – Social Insurance in Sweden in the 1910s

    • Published online: 28 November 2000

Two important dimensions of the Swedish social insurance system are those of universality (encompassing the entire population) and of compensation for loss of income. The decisions basic to the Swedish social insurance system and thus to the Swedish Welfare State were made during the 1910s. A universal pension insurance system was decided upon in 1913. This was the world's first universal public insurance system. Pensions were provided both in cases of disability and of a person reaching the age of 67. Important factors explaining this decision were that Sweden had the oldest population in the Western world and thus high expenditures for poor relief, and that as the reporting and taxation of individual incomes had just been introduced it became possible to finance a universal pension system by means of compulsory contributions by the individual (a special earmarked tax).

The establishment of a pension insurance system provided the basis for a system of insurance for work-related injuries, in 1916. It included the entire workforce and was the most modern of its kind. The presence of a pension insurance system and insurance for work-related injuries pointed to the need for a sickness insurance system. This was designed to deal with simple cases of injury as well as with more serious cases of illness or injury that could lead to disability. A proposal was presented in 1919. A serious deflationary crisis after the First World War and high levels of unemployment during the period between the two world wars made it impossible to introduce a sickness insurance system.

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Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-social-policy
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