I arrived in Sweden in 1989 together with my mother and brother. We were refugees from Iran and since we arrived we have depended on welfare and government benefits in one way or another. In Sweden my family encountered a political system that seemed very strange. The borders were apparently not very heavily watched, since the smuggler could drive us all the way from Berlin to Stockholm without encountering any government officials. The driver bragged about how he was responsible for getting thousands of people into the country. Our meeting with the police made us wonder what kind of country we had come to. The reason was that the Iranian interpreter had secretly given us advice on how to act in order to get a permanent residence permit. Basically we were supposed to claim that my mother was a political refugee who would be persecuted and imprisoned if we returned to Iran. The interpreter also told us that Sweden is a country where the government will put a check into your mailbox each month if you don't work. She explained that there was no reason to get a job. How could a country function if people were paid not to work?
Although my mother got several jobs, we concluded that this really didn't improve our family's economy. During the sixteen years we have been in Sweden, my mother has in total worked less than one year. For a long time the strong work ethics in Sweden has prevented people from exploiting the system. But this seems to be changing. The work ethic has dramatically fallen in Sweden. More and more people are finding ways of living off government as an alternative to working. Between 20 and 25 percent of the working age population does not work. Between 1997 and 2003 the number of people who were on sick leave increased by more than 200,000, a dramatic number for a small country such as Sweden. What can you expect in a country where 9 out of 10 females who are living off sick leave would have less money in their pockets if they went back to their jobs?