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Social barometer: People most in need left without help during pandemic

According to the survey, Finland's social security system has not been able help people with complex issues.

People queuing for food assistance in Itäkeskus in April 2020. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

A survey carried out by public health policy lobby group SOSTE has revealed that welfare services in the country failed to help several groups during the past year.

The SOSTE social barometer, published on Tuesday, polled 1,099 people working in social and health services, the senior staff at TE employment services, and Kela's benefit and customer services.

The survey highlighted that a significant amount of social workers were concerned about people with mental health or substance abuse issues and other difficulties in particular.

The results of the survey found that the Finnish welfare system is able to support people with clear and simple problems, such as those requiring food aid or housing and benefits.

On the other hand, for those with more complex issues, help has often not been as easily accessible.

"The results are worrying. It seems that our social security system is failing at what should be the core of social work: helping those most in need. The bigger the issue, the worse we are at responding to it," said Minna Kivipelto, research manager at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) in a press release.

The survey noted that some people have slipped the net as they have not been able to use the remote and digital services offered, for example.

According to social workers, the needs of those waiting for mental health or disability services have been poorly met.

"It's a big fallacy if, in exceptional circumstances, we expect everyone to have the ability to actively seek help themselves. There are a lot of people, young and old, who for one reason or another are already in need of support even under normal circumstances," says Anne Eronen, researcher at SOSTE.

The gaps in the public services have been often filled by non-profit organisations, parishes and volunteers, whose role is estimated to have grown considerably during the pandemic. Much of the support has focused on offering practical help, such as food assistance, as well as providing counselling and psychological and social support.