Six years after voting to implement a universal basic income (UBI) of 5,200 Swedish Krona per citizen, Sweden has applied for an International Monetary Fund bailout. “UBI has bankrupted us!” said Jarl Johansson, spokesperson for the Swedish National Debt Office (Riksgälden).
The first-of-its kind national UBI scheme pays every Swedish resident over the age of 13, regardless of working status and formal citizenship, a monthly living wage. The program was hailed as a progressive social success when it launched in 2023 as a key element of the Swedish Social Democrat Party’s successful re-election campaign. Initially, all economic indicators showed the program was working, raising living standards for the poorest members of Swedish society, without significantly impacting employment levels.
But by 2027 UBI was running into trouble. A dramatic population shift saw thousands of affluent baby-boomers leaving the country to retire to the warmer climates of France and Spain; at the same time, a rapid influx of young refugees arrived in the country, mainly from war-ravaged Syria and Sudan, seeking personal and financial security.
Sweden remains one of the EU’s most generous supporters of young asylum seekers. The country takes in an average of 90,000 refugees a year, up from 52,000 a year in 2018. This generosity extends to the universal basic income program, which includes refugees and asylum seekers.
Not all citizens, however, agree with these liberal policies. Social tensions between native Swedes and their foreign-born counterparts reached a tipping point in the winter of 2028. In the midst of the protracted EU-wide recession, militant right-wing nationalist workers’ unions embarked on a devastating six week long general strike, demanding higher UBI payments and wages to compensate for double-digit inflation; and job protections against ‘non-natives’.
The economic aftermath of the strike culminated in Sweden’s inability to service its national debt and continue the UBI program into 2030. Johansson confirmed the country was unable to raise enough funding and would approach the IMF for help.