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Considerable local differences in Sweden's efforts for NEETs

Considerable local differences in Sweden's efforts for NEETs

| Text: Fayme Alm, photo: Linnea Bengtsson

Swedish municipalities have very different approaches to how they help more young people with social inclusion, according to a survey that also includes examples of successful measures. Meanwhile, a Nordic project is working to improve young people’s mental health – one of the biggest risk factors for ending up in social exclusion.

For nearly two decades now, strategic efforts have been underway in Sweden aimed at reducing the number of young people who are not in employment or education. Despite progress on several fronts, some 140,000 people aged 16 to 29 have spent more than one year without working or studying according to MUCF, the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society.

“The correct priority is not big measures late in the day, but smaller measures early on, if fewer young people are to avoid social exclusion.”

The statement comes from Lena Nyberg, the MUCF General Director and former Ombudsman for Children, during a conversation with the Nordic Labour Journal.

Municipalities’ role and responsibility

Swedish municipalities have a so-called activity responsibility, known as KAA. This means municipalities “are obliged to identify and offer measures for young people under 20 who are not in upper secondary education or any equivalent education.”

It is also common for municipalities to offer measures to young adults over the age of 20 who are neither employed nor studying. However, there has been a lack of current analysis of the differences in measures at the municipal level for both young people under and over 20 years old, according to MUCF.

Late last year, the authority published a report focusing on three aspects:

  • to investigate the differences on a municipal level in the number of young people who are not working or studying 
  • to investigate differences in how municipalities work with this group
  • to investigate  the local efforts' success factors and challenges

The report is based on registry data from Statistics Sweden and survey responses from 191 of Sweden’s 290 municipalities. Its title is Fokus 23 – Olika villkor för etablering.  Lokala förutsättningar och stöd till unga som varken arbetar eller studerar (Focus 23 – Different conditions for social inclusion. Local preconditions and support for young people who are neither working nor studying). It starts with an analysis.

"As an authority, we are tasked by the government to work towards achieving the goals laid out in youth and civil society policies," says Lena Nyberg.

Equity shortcomings

Fokus 23 has compiled figures showing that support for young people in social exclusion depends on where in Sweden they live. There are large differences between municipalities, so large that “the municipality with the highest proportion of young people neither working nor studying is nearly four times that of the municipalities with the lowest proportion”.

The average proportion of young people aged 16 to 29 who are not working or in education across all of Sweden’s municipalities is 8.5 per cent. The lowest proportion is 4.8 per cent and the highest is 16.7 per cent.

“We know that measures make a difference and that the local level plays a crucial role when it comes to young people’s opportunities for social inclusion. Now, we also know that things are very different from municipality to municipality,” says Lena Nyberg.

The differences between municipalities stem not only from which measures they offer but also the level of cooperation – within the municipality and with other stakeholders like the Public Employment Service, the health care sector, the Social Insurance Agency, businesses and companies. 

The lack of equality is particularly pronounced for young people who have turned 20, according to the report. 

More losses – for many

Since the report was published towards the end of last year, more families of young people living in social exclusion have contacted MUCF. They explain how the exclusion often affects the whole family. 

“Parents, grandparents and others have told us about how this affects people’s health, social life and economy,” says Lena Nyberg.

Society as a whole also stands to lose out economically, according to Nyberg.

“We highlight the risk of significant economic cost for society if these problems are not addressed at an early stage. The further away from the labour market you are, the larger the risk of long-term unemployment." 

Measures that bring results

Success factors outlined in Fokus 23 are based on interviews with nine different municipalities.

The interviews unveiled several factors for successful local measures that can reduce the number of young people in social exclusion. Some of them include:

  • to build businesses and structures that create conditions for long-term work with young people who are outside of employment and education based on their individual needs for support
  • engaging with young people in a way that builds trust
  • creating collaboration platforms to enable young people to access coordinated support from multiple stakeholders
  • providing more preventative interventions to facilitate step-by-step transitions for young people who are far from employment and education

Different measures needed for mixed group 

Fokus 23 underlines that young people not in education or employment is far from a homogenous group. Some have signed up with the Public Employment Service, others are on sick leave while around one-third have unknown employment and livelihood status. This includes the so-called “home sitters” whose number is unknown.

                                  NEETs income

“Since we know that the group is so heterogeneous, we also know that individual support tailored to their own needs makes a big difference,” says Lena Nyberg.

However, knowledge and information about the target group is scattered and to a certain extent hard to access. This makes it harder to create a comprehensive understanding of the knowledge base for people who work with this group on local, regional and national levels, according to Fokus 23, which goes on to say:

 “It is crucial to increase accessibility to relevant knowledge about the target group and in particular knowledge about successful working methods. This is particularly important because those who work with the target group need good knowledge of the various challenges and conditions faced by the young people in order to create individually tailored support.”

Young people in the Nordics a focus for 2024

Sweden holds the Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers this year, and with that also the chairmanship of NORDBUK, the Council’s Committee for Children and Young People.

This has allowed MUCF to apply for support for a project that will focus on young people’s mental health and social inclusion in the Nordic countries. 

A group of young people and experts will begin work on the project soon. 

“All the Nordic countries struggle with this issue and we will use methods where young people are heard. The project has a clear youth perspective where young people get to participate and influence the outcomes, and it also aims to highlight the challenges around young people’s mental health,” says Lena Nyberg.

The project will culminate in a final conference in Stockholm this autumn, where consolidated knowledge and input from across the Nordic region will be presented.

“It will involve a limited but distinguished group of decision-makers at the political or administrative level. These are individuals who are well-informed and capable of making a difference.”

State support is coming

The Swedish government recently decided to allocate over 1.5 billion Swedish kronor (€134m) for measures dealing with mental health and suicide prevention in 2024.

In a written response to the Nordic Labour Journal, the Minister of Social Affairs Jakob Forssmed says:

"Few issues are as important as the work for improved mental health. The government's ambitions are clear – preventive and facilitating efforts should be strengthened, the number of suicides should decrease, and care and support for people with mental illness should become more accessible and equal. 

“An important part of the work is to prepare the ground for the relevant people to develop efforts in the field of mental health and suicide prevention. As part of this, the state and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions have reached an agreement on measures for mental health and suicide prevention for 2024, totalling 1,560,000,000 Swedish kronor, with the majority of the funds allocated to municipalities and regions. 

“As part of the agreement, 803 million Swedish kronor is earmarked for work with the mental health of children and young people. This includes funds to reduce waiting times for child and adolescent psychiatric care and strengthen primary care.

“The agreement is a continuation of the work that the parties have been conducting since 2012, aiming to develop efforts in the field of mental health and suicide prevention.”

Lena Nyberg

is the General Director for the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society.


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