What Do We Do With Our (Grand)Parents: Poverty Amongst Elderly Swedes

Next to my studies I work part time as a Dutch teacher. In the Swedish system do parents, with a foreign background, have the right to get a teacher for their children, which can teach them their mother tongue. In practice that means that I work at a place where everyone is from a different country, a truly international organisation, with everything from Amharic to Zulu.

About three weeks ago we all came together for a meeting and I had the chance to talk with my colleagues more than usual. I started talking with a Serbian lady, a nice, talkative person, who always has her opinion ready. She’s about to retire, but as much as she wants to enjoy that period of her life, it has become something she worries about.

The day before she had received a notice on the height of her pension. She carried the letter with her and showed me. “How can I live of that?” she asked me, “This barely covers my rent!” The amount on the letter was very low and I had a hard time believing that this could be true, her income would decrease with more than 60%. She told me how much she pays in in rent, an amount that is already low for Stockholm standards. It meant that she would have about 1500 SEK ($202 or €162) left to live of, far too little to live a humane life.

She told me that she has no other option than to move far away to the countryside, where the rents are much lower. This, however, means leaving all her friends and family behind, which seems completely against the spirit of current ideas on housing strategies for elderly. Strategies such as aging in place argue that elderly should live in their house as long as possible, if the house does not fit the needs of the person it should be adjusted.

Aging in place is considered important because it lets people live in an area where they are most likely to know people in their vicinity, friends, family and neighbours. These people can not only help each other, but also keep each other company, which lowers the risk of social isolation among elderly.

Unfortunately my colleague is not the only one in this situation. Yesterday, the headline, of the free newspaper Metro, was “Alarm: our elderly are ending up homeless”. The article was based on a new rapport published by Stockholms Stadsmission, an organisation that tries to improve the lives of vulnerable groups in the city. The main conclusion was that a tougher housing market and declining pensions are increasing the elderly’s vulnerability. Now 10% of the homeless people seeking help at the Stadsmission is above the age of 60.  For the group that stadsmission is helping to get permanent living 25% is above 60.

My colleague is not homeless yet, but, if she doesn’t find a solution before the end of this school year, she will be forced into poverty. In a welfare society like Sweden, one of the richest countries in the world, it seems unnecessary that people are forced into these kind of situations.   

(Picture by: Jrperes)


Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .