The Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) has cut basic income support payments to 11,000 recipients this year.
Currently, the basic social assistance, which is considered a last-resort form of financial help, is 491 euros per month and is paid to households whose income is not enough to cover basic daily necessities. However, Kela has the right to reduce the amount by up to 40 percent if the recipient refuses to accept work or enroll in training or education.
At the end of August, there were 11,149 persons who had had their basic social assistance slashed this year.
The payment of basic social assistance used to be the responsibility of the municipalities, but Kela took over this task in the spring of 2017. Since then, the number of people receiving reduced basic social assistance has grown significantly.
Benefit cut a "radical measure"
While cuts to the basic social assistance have been legal for a long time, municipal social workers rarely used this option. Kela researcher Tuija Korpela says municipal social workers used the threat of benefit cuts to activate clients.
“It served as a wake-up call to clients unwilling to make any plans about their future,” she notes. Officials at Kela, on the other hand, must follow established rules on when benefits should be cut.
Pasi Pajunen from Kela's basic social assistance unit however points out that only 1.5 percent of all recipients of basic social assistance have seen the benefit reduced.
“The decision to cut this benefit is a radical measure and there must be strong grounds for it. We also need to listen to the client before taking any such action,” Pajunen says.
Tiina Hedborg is currently on disability pension and says it is not easy to live with the basic social assistance.
“491 euros for food, phone, personal hygiene items, public transportation and clothing. You can’t live with that in Helsinki,” explains Hedborg, who regularly visits a food bank in the Kallio district. She also criticises the transfer of responsibilities from municipalities to Kela.
“City social workers knew their clients and their circumstances. I don’t want to mock the employees at Kela, but they don’t live here among us, the common people," Hedborg says.
"This is hell."