Ten years later, I worked odd jobs in San Francisco: nighttime at a café, daytime for a nonprofit organisation called Meals on Wheels that provided meals for elderly people who had a hard time shopping for food and cooking at home. By this time, I was more familiar with the stress on ‘family values’ that was so important in the US and indeed in most parts of the world. So, I was puzzled to see how many of the elderly we served apparently suffered from the absence of both state support and familial care. The gap between the rhetoric of family values and the reality of poverty and solitude was clearly wide. Again, the difference between Sweden and most countries came to mind. As I later began to research the matter, I discovered that the laws in Sweden had been changed in the 1970s to transfer the legal and financial responsibility for the elderly from the grown children to the state.

In Sweden, resources and measures are, as we have discussed above, targeted at the individual citizen, without going via the family or nonprofit organisations. In this way, the state protects the individual from any risk of ending up in a relationship of dependency upon parents, spouses or charitable organisations. It also leads to the emancipated citizen becoming more mobile in the labour market, more easily governed through political measures, and more inclined to turn to the market to meet needs that would previously have been satisfied within the family. Social insurance, child benefit allowances, student grants and other forms of state redistribution take the form of unquestioned social rights, which accrue to individual citizens.

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