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All Points North #35: Poverty in Finland with Eeva-Maria Grekula, Liisa Heinämäki and Jiri Sironen

Longer lines at food banks and more people struggling to make ends meet: APN takes a closer look at increasing poverty in Finland's rich welfare state.

Audio: Yle News

This week the Yle News team sat down to talk about persistent poverty in the country with Jiri Sironen of the European Anti-Poverty Network in Finland, Eeva-Maria Grekula, a woman with first-hand experience living in poverty, and Liisa Heinämäki, a project manager in the prime minister's office who is part of a team focusing on anti-poverty and anti-social exclusion measures.

Sironen's organisation recently put out a Poverty Watch Report on data up to 2017 that, among other things, found that the number of households with no income at all had doubled since 2013 to nearly 50,000. Meanwhile, finance ministry statistics show that earnings in low-income households have decreased by more than any other income group in recent years.

We asked Sironen how this is possible in a country that prides itself on egalitarianism and provides extensive social benefits. He said it is partially down to policy makers not making poverty eradication a priority, preferring to formulate strategies instead of passing concrete policies.

Eeva-Maria Grekula told us about her struggles as a single mom making do on limited resources, saying that the hardest part of being in that position was not being able to provide for her children. She said that people living in poverty should do more to call attention to their situation if they could just move beyond the shame and go public with their experiences.

Helping the poor is a top voter priority

Parliamentary and European elections are coming up this spring, and a fresh poll of prospective voters suggests that Finnish residents rank care for the poor and sick as the number one priority in casting their ballots.

Liisa Heinämäki's government team is trying to come up with long-term alternatives that the next government could implement when it takes office. She says they are seeking to change the current social security system to be more positive and encouraging and less negative.

The first place to start, she said, should be in the area of state services. She echoed the sentiment of Grekula, who called for stronger social services for people having a hard time. Heinämäki said that provision of services and benefits have drifted away from each other in recent years, and added that one of her team's objectives is to get the two back in better sync moving forward.

Top news of the week

APN took a look at the three most engaging news stories on social media from the past week. First came the chilly update that the coldest temperature of the season so far, -32 degrees Celsius, was registered in Salla, northern Finland

Second in popularity was our report on the book problem at Helsinki's new flagship library Oodi, where demand for books has been so high, that workers are having trouble stocking the shelves. Officials said that users had checked out 66-thousand books in December and returned just about half by the end of the year.

Finally, our audience got excited about Finland's narrow win over the USA in the World Junior Ice Hockey Championship in Vancouver last Saturday. The young Finns held the Americans to a 3-2 final to bring home the gold. The Finnish juniors won previous championships in 1987, 1998, 2014 and 2016.

If you have any questions, or would like to share something on your mind, just contact us via WhatsApp on +358 44 421 0909, on our Facebook or Twitter account, or at yle.news@yle.fi.

The All Points North podcast is a weekly look at what's going on in Finland. Subscribe via iTunes (and leave a review!), listen on Spotify and Yle Areena or find it on your favourite podcatching app or via our RSS feed.

This week's show was presented by Denise Wall and Mark B. Odom and . Our producer was Pamela Kaskinen, reporting was by Zena Iovino and the sound technician was Marko Vierikko.

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