Monday's papers: Income transfers, more help for sexual assault victims, baby names

One morning paper reports that last year, 80 percent of people in Finland received some type of public financial support.

It has long been a custom in Finland to keep a child's name under wraps until it is first pronounced in church at the baptismal font. Image: Yle

Helsinki daily Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) writes that last year approximately 4.4 million people in Finland received benefits paid out by the Social Insurance Institution Kela. This means that 80 percent of the population received some form of public financial support.

This figure recently came in discussions when Mikko Kautto, Managing Director of the Finnish Centre for Pensions, criticised the current benefits model in an interview with Helsingin Sanomat. According to Kauto, Finland has become a country of income transfers and these ever-increasing expenditures threaten the welfare state.

"Suddenly, 80 percent sounds like a really big number. Is the welfare state a failure if so many turn to it for help?" asks the paper.

Minna van Gerven, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Helsinki says it is not, rather the opposite is true.

"The Finnish welfare state is based on the Nordic universal model, which covers everything from cradle to grave. In fact, the figure could be even higher. It could be a hundred percent," van Gerven says.

She added that two different things are easily confused in the debate - the fact that some people's livelihoods depend entirely on Kela benefits, and that extensive benefits are part of the Nordic welfare state.

"Everyone pays and everyone gets. That is what makes this model equitable and workable," van Gerven argues.

Kela provides many general benefits, such as child benefits and reimbursing medical costs. These are paid to everyone, regardless of income level.

Those entirely dependent on Kela benefits are some pensioners and people receiving unemployment payments.

Sickness benefits are by far the most common benefit paid by Kela. Most medical reimbursements are paid for spending on medication. Last year, almost three million people in Finland received drug-cost reimbursements from Kela.

Another similar common payment is the child benefit, which is paid to all families with minor children, regardless of income level. Last year, child benefits were paid to about half a million families.

Income-independent benefits have traditionally been thought to strengthen the welfare state.

"When you yourself benefit from the welfare state, it may strengthen your willingness to pay taxes," points out Kela Senior Researcher Signe Jauhiainen.

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Expanded services for victims of sexual assault

The number of support centres for victims of sexual violence is being more than doubled, according to a syndicated article carried by several papers, including Jyväskylä's Keskisuomalainen (siirryt toiseen palveluun).

At present there are ten units, known as "Seri Support Centres for Victims of Sexual Assault" at university or other large hospitals.

THL specialist Katriina Bildjuschkin says that in the future, there will be additional support available in 13 new locations, including Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Kotka, Lahti and Mikkeli.

The first Seri Support Centre was established at Helsinki University Hospital in 2017. Since then, centres have also opened in Kokkola, Kuopio, Lappeenranta, Oulu, Pori, Rovaniemi, Seinäjoki, Tampere and Turku.

These centres are for people over the age of 16, regardless of gender, for cases in which no more than a month has passed since an incident of sexual violence. The service is free of charge.

A large proportion of those seeking support are younger women. According to Bildjuschkin, there was a sharp rise over the summer months,

"As soon as restaurants and other public events were opened, the number of clients at the Seri support centres increased," she explained.

In contrast, in the spring of 2020, during after closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was a decline. This is despite the fact that intimate partner violence is estimated to have increased at the time.

It is believed that half of incidents of serious violence inflicted by partners in relationships involves sexual violence.

In addition to those who experience violence in relationships, Bildjuschkin believes that people of immigrant background, members of various minority groups, and men and boys are all groups that need to be better reached by these support services.

Big winter power bills

The Tampere-based daily Aamulehti carries a head-up (siirryt toiseen palveluun) from Jukka Ruusunen, CEO of the electricity transmission grid company Fingrid, that electricity bills this coming winter could be unusually large, especially if norther Norway doesn't get above-average levels of rainfall soon.

The price of electricity on the Nordic electricity exchange has fluctuated at an exceptionally high level recently, which is due, among other things, to the low level of rainfall in the region last summer. As water reserves have been lower than normal, the output of Norwegian hydropower plants, which are crucial to Nordic electricity production, threatens to be lower than normal.

German energy policy is also having an impact. The Nordic electricity market is now more closely linked to the central European market through new transmission connections. Central Europe is still highly dependent on fossil fuels, and higher prices for those fuels may be reflected in Finland.

In order to avoid huge electricity bills, consumers should pay attention to their use of the most electricity-intensive devices in their homes, such as electric heaters, advises Päivi Suur-Uski, an expert at the state sustainability-focused company Motiva.

"If you can tweak the electric sauna's operating time even a little, you will be able to lower your electricity bill quite effectively," Suur-Uski says, but at the same time calls for accuracy with all other electrical devices.

In addition to the day-to-day use of electrical equipment, Suur-Uski points out that consumers can most easily cut electricity bills by purchasing low-power consuming devices..

Waiting to name baby

The farmers' union paper, Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (siirryt toiseen palveluun) provides readers with what may be yet one more reason for Finnish people being, as famously put by Bertolt Brecht, the only nation that is "silent in two languages".

In most western countries and cultures parents are happy to share the name chosen for a newborn with family and friends, sometime well in advance of its arrival.

Not so in Finland. Here is it more customary to keep a child's name under wraps until it is first pronounced in church at the baptismal font, when the child is already weeks, sometimes months old.

Pastor Jenni Kahenvirta of the Mikael parish in Helsinki tells Maaseudun Tulevaisuus that while many Finns themselves think this is a requirement of some sort, in fact it is an old Finnish folk custom, not a Christian tradition, as such.

However, since new members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church have traditionally been baptised as infants, the disclosure of a child's name has been used in Finland to be specifically associated with baptism and Christianity.

This Finnish-style name secrecy would not even be possible in many other countries, Kahenvirta points out, "Often the child's name has to be registered in the maternity hospital, but in Finland you get some time to think."

There is another reason, though, she explains , "In the old days, people believed, for example, that if the [child's] name is revealed before baptism, the child will become talkative. These folk beliefs are not well remembered today, but the custom has survived."