Sweden’s income gap grows as more people than ever are at risk of poverty

More people than ever in Sweden are considered to be at risk of poverty, new statistics show.

Sweden's income gap grows as more people than ever are at risk of poverty
The measurement is based on the proportion of people whose income is less than 60 percent of the medium income. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The proportion of people at risk of poverty topped 15 percent for the first time in 2019, according to data published by Statistics Sweden this week.

This is a relative measurement, also called 'low economic standard' in Sweden. It is based on the proportion of people whose income is less than 60 percent of the medium income, so it doesn't necessarily mean that the poorest have less money in their wallets than in previous years.

But it does mean that they have less compared to their peers, and that gaps between rich and poor are increasing.

“This can create tensions and can be serious,” professor Daniel Waldenström, who researchers income gaps, told the TT newswire.

“Everyone with a job has had significant increases in income over the last 20 years,” he said, adding that this meant pensioners, students, and the unemployed are relatively worse off. But Waldenström said that the proportion of people in absolute poverty had decreased.

Income gaps were also present between Swedish- and foreign-born people in Sweden, with the economic standard of the latter just 77 percent of that of native-born Swedes, a figure that has remained relatively stable over the past decade.

Statistics Sweden's measurements do not take into account the impact of the welfare system in Sweden, which reduces poverty among children and pensioners through for example child or housing benefits and subsidised health and dental care.

The demographic with the highest proportion (41 percent) of people living at risk of poverty according to this measurement is single women over 80, followed by people aged under 20 (20 percent). 

Overall, households' economic standard increased by 0.7 percent in 2019, the slowest rate of growth since the 1990s – and due to the pandemic this may have slowed even further in 2020.

Differences in income, measured using the Gini coefficient which gives a score between 0 and 1 (where 0 means all households have the same income and higher values represent greater disparities), increased in 2019.

The richest ten percent of the population accounted for 26 percent of income, while the half of the population with the lowest income accounted for just 30 percent of the total.

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What rules are there for wood burners and fireplaces in Sweden?

With the price of electricity and heating going up, many people in Sweden have turned to wood burners and fireplaces to help heat their homes and lower their heating costs. What rules do you have to bear in mind?

What rules are there for wood burners and fireplaces in Sweden?

What fuel can I use?

As a general rule, you should only burn dry wood. Guidelines from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency state that your wood must have dried for at least 6 months, in a covered outdoor location.

Once you’ve brought it inside, try to use it within two weeks – otherwise it can dry out too much, meaning it burns more quickly, produces less heat and more soot.

On the other hand, if your wood is too wet, this can also cause issues. It will produce a lot of smoke, will not burn well and will emit a larger amount of environmentally hazardous substances.

It is illegal to burn rubbish such as milk cartons or plastic, as well as impregnated or painted wood, chipboard and plywood.

Coal is rarely used for heating private homes in Sweden due to the environmental impact, although there are no official bans on burning coal in indoor fireplaces.

Keep in mind that many modern fireplaces or wood burners are not designed for burning coal, and older fireplaces may only be approved for burning wood, so make sure you check the recommendations for your heater if you plan on using coal.

On the topic of older fireplaces, make sure you check with your council or building owner whether you are permitted to use your fireplace before you light a fire. If it hasn’t been used for a number of years, you may need to schedule an inspection, where an expert will inspect your fireplace and chimney for any cracks or areas that need repairing.

When can I light a fire?

Depending on where you live, there may be rules on when you are allowed to light a fire if it is not your primary source of heating. This is usually referred to as trivseleldning – lighting a fire for cosiness or comfort, rather than necessity.

In Malmö, for example, you are only allowed to light fires in tiled chimneys (kakelugnar), open fireplaces or woodburners between October 1st and March 31st. Some municipalities – Malmö included – also recommend lighting a fire no more than twice a week, for a maximum of four hours at a time.

Anna Nordkvist, a chimneysweep in Västerås, prepares to swing a chimney brush into a chimney. Photo: Per Groth/TT/Scanpix

Stockholm and Gothenburg have no rules on what time of year you are allowed to light a fire, or how often, but all three city councils underline the importance of considering your neighbours and only lighting a fire on days where it is windy enough for the smoke produced to be sufficiently dispersed.

If you live in another area, try searching for elda inomhus, plus the name of your local municipality, to find out the rules where you live.

If you burn wood in a way that causes irritation to your neighbours, they have the right to complain to the local council’s environmental department, who have the power to issue you with a ban on using your fireplace.

How often should I clean my chimney?

Depending on whether you live in a house or apartment, you may be responsible for organising chimney-sweeping yourself, or this might be the responsibility of the owner of your building.

Usually, if your fireplace or wood burner is not your primary source of heating and you only use it occasionally, your chimney won’t need to be swept more than once every three years.

If you’re not sure when your chimney was last swept (either because you don’t use it very often or because you recently moved into your property), try contacting your local council or searching for sotare (chimney sweep) or sotning (chimney-sweeping), plus the area where you live for advice. Most councils have a list over the properties in their area with chimneys and when they were last cleaned, or they will refer you to their approved contractors who should be able to help you.