Chinese researchers study the Swedish welfare model
24 August 2012
Around ten social sciences researchers from some of China’s absolute top universities have just been in Lund for a three-day workshop.
The Chinese are interested in the Swedish welfare model as an example in relation to changes that are currently underway in the country’s social policy.
At the same time, China’s social development, which has a global impact, is of great interest to Swedish researchers.
Lund University has been involved in cooperation and exchange of teaching staff with China for many years. The workshop is centred on future challenges to welfare policy and is also to be a platform for future research cooperation. Within a short time, China has gone from being a state-run planned economy to a successful market economy.
Yet alongside the economic successes, the social divide has increased. Now the state is trying once again to exert more control, in order to achieve a more equal distribution of resources and to improve the health of the population, the Chinese researchers explained.
Europe, not least Sweden and the other Nordic countries, is a source of inspiration because good welfare and state investments also reduce the impact of economic crises and unemployment.
“Developing the welfare system is central to the cohesion of a huge country like China and to ensure sustainable development. Both decision-makers and researchers devote a large amount of attention to their country’s growing inequality and lack of social security”, says sociologist Kjell Nilsson, who organised the workshop with a grant from the Research Council FAS.
In 1950 China was a developing country. The average life expectancy was only thirty years. Three decades later it had increased to sixty-eight.
“There were neither funds nor trained doctors, but fantastic results were achieved through the system of barefoot doctors,” explains Professor Ling Li.
She is Vice Director of China’s centre for economic research at Peking University and an advisor to the Chinese Ministry of Health as well as to the World Bank.
“Since 1978, however, the average life expectancy has not notably increased”, she continues.
“The reason is an economic approach within the public health service which has led to focus on disease and treatment, instead of preventive measures.
Doctors have been paid according to how much medicine they prescribe. They have looked for diseases and not paid attention to the needs of the whole person”, says Ling Li.
The system’s shortcomings became apparent in connection with the SARS epidemic at the start of the 2000s. This resulted in a new public healthcare plan. It is hoped that the plan will lead to new norms, less overmedication, increased focus on sustainable development and the patient’s best interest over the entire life cycle.
“The state has also introduced health insurance, for which the individual carries less than one third of the cost. Currently, 95 per cent of the population is covered. This is an enormous change in comparison to a few years ago when it was virtually impossible for many people to consult a doctor”, says Ling Li.
”What we are seeing within healthcare and medicine is a trend which also affects other areas within social policy, i.e. fewer pure market solutions and more political control”, adds researcher Guang Xinping, director of the Centre for Social Policy Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
The Swedish model is not what it used to be, however – this also emerged from the workshop. The Swedish researchers reported how welfare has been eroded a great deal in recent years, not least within healthcare and care of the elderly.
Text: Britta Collberg