Swedish government promises cash for elderly care after COVID-19 deaths

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s centre-left government will boost funding for elderly care by around $500 million in its 2021 budget after the number of deaths in old people’s homes during the coronavirus pandemic sparked widespread concern.

The government has said it will boost spending by more than 100 billion Swedish crowns ($11.45 billion) in the budget to be published on Sept. 21 as it seeks to restart the economy and plug holes in the welfare system exposed by the pandemic.

“Our goal must be to build the world’s best system of elderly care, and this spring and the coronavirus have showed that we need to speed up this work,” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told reporters on Monday.

Sweden’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic has been much larger than its Nordic neighbours, though less than countries like Britain and Spain. Most of those deaths have been among the elderly, including many residents in care homes.

Around 5,800 Swedes have died compared with around 340 people in Finland, which has about half the population of its bigger neighbour, and Lofven’s minority government has faced widespread criticism for failing to protect vulnerable citizens.

Lofven said budget, negotiated with two small centre-right parties which nominally sit in opposition, would prioritise welfare, fighting climate change and building up the criminal justice system, amid worries about violent crime.

“The budget has a clear direction -- it will make it possible for everyone in our country to contribute and work Sweden out of this crisis,” Lofven said.

In addition to the 9.7 billion crowns for elderly care, local authorities will get an extra 10 billion crowns ($1.14 billion) in grants from the central government, with an additional 5 billion crowns coming in 2022.

Reporting by Simon Johnson and Johan Ahlander; Editing by Catherine Evans