The financial consequences of incorporating the Convention on the Rights of the Child into Swedish law (2017:19)
The Swedish Government has given the Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) the assignment to conduct an in-depth analysis of the impact on public finances and the economic consequences to the society of incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (“the Children’s Convention”) into Swedish law. Statskontoret has commissioned Ramböll Management Consulting to perform the analysis. In order to obtain an understanding of the anticipated consequences and impacts, the consultant has conducted interviews with individuals in governmental authorities who can be expected to be first affected by the incorporation, including in a number of municipalities, and experts. The analysis also takes into account the experience of Norway, which incorporated the Children’s Convention in 2003. Ramböll’s report is summarised below.
The Children’s Convention incorporated into Swedish law - clarifying a convention commitment
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by Sweden in 1990. Swedish legislation and application of the law conforms to the Children’s Convention to a relatively high degree. However in some areas, the Government has determined that there are shortcomings, and that municipalities and public authorities among others should do more to live up to the Convention. One way to accomplish this is to give Children’s Convention a status as Swedish law.
In a request for a legal opinion submitted to the Swedish Council on Legislation, the Government is proposing that the Children’s Convention be incorporated into Swedish law, as from 1 January in 2020. This means that all other legislation must be interpreted on the basis of the Convention as a whole, and not solely on the basis of the legal texts that have been transformed (for instance, the Swedish Aliens Act (Utlänningslag) and the Swedish Education Act (Skollag)). With the incorporation the Government wants to ensure that Sweden’s convention obligations and commitments under the Children’s Convention are ensured at all levels in governmental activities, and that a child rights-based approach permeates all activities relating to children and young people.
The impact on public finances is estimated based on three scenarios
There are no prerequisites to be used as evidence for calculating the impact of the Government’s proposals for incorporation on public finances. However, Ramboll has estimated the impact on public finances for the period 2020-2024 based on three scenarios with different assumptions about changes in the work of the activities, different types of costs and the inflow of cases to the public authorities. The scenarios are to be regarded as calculation hypotheticals, and not as forecasts.
Ramboll has assumed that the Government will decide on the three implementation measures that entail costs:
- an education initiative to train personnel in the public authorities and municipalities in the application of the Children’s Convention
- guidance for personnel who will be applying the provisions and rules
- an investigation to identify how the Children’s Convention is dealt with in Swedish legislation and application of the law.
In addition to the cost of implementation, Ramboll’s assessment is that the incorporation involves three main types of costs:
- costs for more reviews/appeals and longer processing times in cases involving children
- costs for operational changes in the activities and agencies affected, such as revisions of policy documents
- costs for formation of rights and judicial proceedings.
Based on these costs, the analysis contains three scenarios, all of which are based on the basic presumption that the more extensive proactive implementation measures that the Government decides on, the less the costs incurred will be in order to adapt the public sector activities and the processes for the formation of rights:
- If the Government allows the implementation to take place without investments such as for education and training, the costs for the period 2020-2024 are estimated at SEK 365 million.
- If the Government provides support for the implementation with, for instance certain educational and training initiatives, among other efforts, the costs for the period 2020-2024 are estimated at SEK 255 million.
- If the Government ensures the implementation with more extensive education efforts/training and other measures, the costs for the 2020-2024 period are estimated at SEK 195 million.
An incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Swedish law is expected to affect all governmental activities that involve child and youth matters. The distribution of the costs between the national government, county councils and municipalities differs in the three scenarios. Common to all scenarios is that the municipalities are expected to be responsible for almost three-quarters of the estimated costs. About one-quarter of the costs are expected to arise at national government agencies.
The economic consequences to the society are difficult to assess
The economic consequences to the society of the incorporation are dependent upon how the Children’s Convention is interpreted as Swedish law, which court cases that will arise and be pursued, the outcome of the court cases that arise, and how the work of the various affected public authorities changes over the long term. The difficulties in understanding the economic consequences and impacts to the society with the incorporation of the Children’s Convention into Swedish law is due largely to three factors:
- The Children’s Convention is already being applied to some extent in the public sector. For instance, the affected parties in areas such as the educational system and the migration authorities already apply this Convention to a large extent. This due partly due to the consequence of the principles concerning the interpretation of the Convention, and partly due to a number of transformations of Swedish statues after Sweden ratified the 1990 Children’s Convention.
- In many cases, the Articles of the Children’s Convention are openly formulated and generally held. This means that the Articles of the Children’s Convention do not have the requisite precision which is the key principle in the public sector. Unlike Swedish law, the Children’s Convention lacks clear direction or guidance for how the text of the Convention is to be interpreted after its eventual incorporation.
- The requirements imposed on the activities concerned have not yet been expressed. There is, as of yet, no decision about how the Government wants the public sector activities to change their activities as a consequence of the provisions of the Children’s Convention becoming Swedish law.
Ramboll believes, however, that the scope of the implementing measures will also be of importance for the impact of the economic consequences to the society. It is likely that the public administration will take the rights of children into account to a greater extent if the Government also makes the decision to adopt more ambitious and far-reaching reaching implementation measures. Whether this is positive or negative economically from the perspective of the society as a whole has not been able to be evaluated.
Statskontoret ’s assessment
Statskontoret agrees with Ramböll’s conclusions in this report. In regards to the scenarios for the impacts on public finances, it should be regarded, as Ramboll points out, as calculation hypotheticals under various different assumptions and not as forecasts.