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Who stands in the bread queue?

A large majority of Finns is better off than ever, but the food queues are longer than they were in the 1990s recession years. The results of a Foundation for Municipal Development study are not particularly surprising – the majority of people waiting in line depend on social security, or they’re low income earners who have difficulty making ends meet in everyday life.

Ihmisiä jonottamassa ruokaa. Leipäpusseja etualalla.
Thousands of Finns rely on food aid to supplement low incomes in hard times. Image: Yle

Each week some 20,000 people in Finland queue for handouts of free food. These services are not run by the state, but by organisations, churches and individuals who offer assistance to those most in need.

The University of Eastern Finland and the Foundation for Municipal Development released a study entitled Who stands in the bread queue? which maps, for the first time, the backgrounds of people on the receiving end of food aid. Three and a half thousand people were interviewed across Finland.

According to the report, the need for food aid is a manifestation of poverty and deprivation throughout the country. Those who accept the helping hand clearly experienced poorer living conditions, less faith in the authorities and weakened well-being. Parents tended to find taking a handout humiliating and the research also revealed that older members of the food queue had a tendency to under-utilise social assistance.

More than a third of those who queued for food were middle-aged or older, living in a rented one adult household and rarely high qualified. More than a third were unemployed or laid off. Most -- 80-90 percent -- of food aid recipients are Finnish citizens.

The vast majority received housing benefit and/or income support, but said it still wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Only one-tenth received no social welfare – most of whom were low-income workers with tight finances. These so-called “working poor” were generally solo-dwelling individuals or single parents.

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