Does Anybody Care? Public and Private Responsibilities in Swedish Eldercare 1940-2000
Abstract: Since the 1980s, practically all of the western welfare states have developed social policies, which aim at shifting the responsibilities for welfare services from the state to the family, the civil society or to the market. In Sweden, this political transformation has particularly hit the public eldercare. In the last twenty years, the percentage of the population 65 years and older receiving public home help services in Sweden has decreased from 23 to 8 per cent at the same time as the number of beds in hospitalized eldercare has been heavily reduced. Moreover, during the course of the 2000s, the majority of the Swedish municipalities have reintroduced means testing of the eldercare based on whether the elderly have relatives or not that can perform the services. Parallel with these downsizes in the publicly financed and organized eldercare; privately produced eldercare services have increased, carried out by large and internationally own business corporations.Based on an theoretical framework, which combines the historical approach within the neo-institutional research tradition with a discursive method of analysis, this thesis explores if the period from the 1980s and onwards has been a formative moment in Swedish eldercare during which new ideas have become embedded in the institutional frameworks regulating the division of responsibility for eldercare services between the state, the family and the market. To examine if and how the municipalities, which are principally responsible for organizing and financing the public eldercare in Sweden, have implemented the change in ideas that have emerged in national politics since the 1980s, the thesis also examines how the eldercare has developed in two of Sweden’s municipalities since the 1980s.The results of the thesis demonstrates that the period from the 1980s and onwards has been a formative moment in the Swedish eldercare during which new ideas regarding the public responsibility for eldercare service have emerged and become institutionalized. Since the 1980s, senior citizens’ need for care has increasingly been re-interpreted from a public to a private issue with the consequence that today, their need for certain services, in particular those related to housework, are no longer regarded to be a public responsibility but a private matter that the elderly will have to solve, either by buying the services on the market, or, by asking relatives for help and assistance. The main problem connected with this reprivatization of senior citizens’ need for care is, however, that as the state has withdrawn its responsibility, women, in their role of being wives, daughters, or daughters-in-laws, have been forced to step in as informal and unpaid providers of care. Therefore, regardless of political reigns and modes of production, women have been forced to taken on an increasingly larger responsibility for their elderly relatives.
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