One in three Norwegians on benefits

One in three work-aged adults, the most in the world, is on some sort of sick leave or disability pension in Norway, according to numbers that ended up in the national budget announced this week.

Payouts to the sick and injured will grow at 5 percent per year in the coming years, or double what the European Union predicts it will need to cover in the years to 2060.

“After Sweden and the Netherlands managed to reverse the trend, Norway ended up as world leader (in benefits),” University of Bergen welfare state chronicler, Professor Kjell Vaage, told newspaper Bergens Tidende.

Vaage could not be reached by The Local for comment.

He said most worrying was the spike in numbers of young people among the 1.5 million on social services in this country of just over 4.5 million people. Vaage claims sick pay rules account for Norway’s “weakness”.

“None dare touch the world’s most generous system, where you get exactly as much money whether you go to work or you’re sick at home,” Vaage said, adding that if no one else in the world has the same system, “We can’t be sure it’s us who has the best arrangement.”

The professor asserted that there really are only three carrots in the fight against pricy absenteeism, and they are getting workers to pay higher contributions, cut payouts or increase controls for those claiming assistance.

He referred to “dramatic” Dutch action that cut the ranks of those on sick leave: The Netherlands made employers pay the full bill for two years and he suggested this was the motivation needed to keep workers fit and safe. In Norway, he said, the state pays most of the tab.

Many in this country of generous salaries are said to be succumbing to stress, as they strive to keep up in jobs demanding corresponding effort for high pay.

Yet positive patterns are also pushing up the numbers: Norway has the highest birthrate in Western Europe, and expectant mothers leaving the workplace in the final weeks of pregnancy make up a large number of those on benefits. Among the youngest workers on medical leave, young men make up the fastest growing group, a testament, perhaps, to the explosive growth in industry in Norway.

Otherwise, the “natural unemployment rate” reins in this oil-rich land, where the jobless make up just 2.5 percent of the available workforce.

The numbers from Statistics Norway also suggest the silver-haired over-67s will by 2060 be as large a group as 40 percent of the heavily taxed workforce.

The plain-old sick make up just six percent of those receiving payouts, according to the national social services entity, NAV.

Contrary to stereotypes, immigrants receive proportionately less old-age and disability pension than those born into the Norwegian comfort advantage. Just 6 percent of “foreigners” receive such benefits compared to 9.6 percent for “ethnic Norwegians”.

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