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Monday's papers: Tax refunds to change, MPs' mileage benefit, human rights declaration anniversary

Last pre-Christmas tax refund hits accounts on Tuesday, MPs get paid for driving and the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70.

Eleanor Roosevelt esittelee YK:n ihmisoikeuskomission ihmisoikeuksien julistusta.
US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with the idea for the Declaration of Human Rights, which she called an "international Magna Carta for all mankind". Image: AOP

The holiday season in Finland has long included a feature welcome to many: the paying out of excess income tax payments as refunds to taxpayers. Essentially, people in Finland have gotten used to getting a kind of "Christmas bonus" at the end of the year – or getting stuck with a bill.

The timing of this refund system is set to change in 2019, so the traditional pre-Christmas Tax Administration payout will occur for the last time on Tuesday, 11 December.

Daily Helsingin Sanomat writes that this year's windfall will be larger than usual. Some 3.6 million Finnish taxpayers – or nearly two thirds of the population – will receive refunds totalling 2.9 billion euros. That's 13 percent more than a year ago. Nearly one million people will receive more than 1,000 euros.

In future, HS writes, most workers will get their rebates much earlier, around August. Those who make changes to their pre-filled tax return statements may see their refunds slightly later.

An independent website called vertaaensin.fi (meaning "compare first"), which contrasts different money-saving mechanisms and services such as bank loans, finds in its review that earlier refunds may affect how people save as well as how well the retailers fare during the Christmas shopping season.

The same site found that about a third of people in Finland purposefully opt for a higher tax percentage in relation to their projected annual income for the specific purpose of getting a tax refund around the holidays. HS writes that women use this tactic more frequently than men.

Free trips, ride sharing

Meanwhile tabloid Ilta-Sanomat reviews data on mileage benefits received by Finnish members of parliament. According to the statistics, Finns Party MP Leena Meri is the only person in the country who is compensated for driving just a few kilometers a day for work.

Finnish MPs may travel for free domestically using planes, trains, buses and taxis. Parliament members may also bill the government for trips taken with their own cars if they live far away from Helsinki or if public transportation is lacking in their area.

The Finns Party's Meri resides some three kilometres from her closest train station in the Southern Finnish city of Hyvinkää, the shortest car trip covered by the government for any MP. Her benefits amounted to 88 euros in 2018.

"I've worked for the government for a long time," she says in IS. "The travel guideline is to use the form of transport that is cheapest to the taxpayer."

Meri's party colleague Teuvo Hakkarainen is the king of mileage benefits, receiving 7,856 euros this year for driving between the Central Finnish town of Viitasaari and Helsinki. The round trip of 800 kilometres comes in at 336 euros per journey.

Even though Hakkarainen chooses not to drive to the nearest train station to switch rides, his car trips actually save money, IS writes.

"[My fellow MP] Toimi Kankaanniemi rides with me very often," Hakkarainen tells the tabloid. "Other MPs also come along frequently, sometimes I drive three other colleagues to work at the same time. No money required for plane tickets or taxis."

70 years since UNUDHR

Finally south-western regional paper Turun Sanomat reminds readers that Monday, 10 December is an auspicious day: the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the General Assembly in Paris in 1948.

The post-war declaration is considered one of the most-translated documents in the world, having been translated into more than 500 different languages and dialects.

Advocacy chief Heli Markkula from the Finnish League of Human Rights tells TS that Finland has cause to be proud that it upholds the historic declaration – but that the government still has a lot to learn.

"Basic security in Finland is low and poverty is common among the populace," Markkula says. "Social and financial rights need to be seen as human rights. We need a lot more human rights training and awareness in this country."

She points out that there have been strides forward on many human rights issues in the past seven decades, especially for children and the disabled.

"Disabled people are now treated as people, not as mere recipients of care. Children and young people are more commonly included in decisions about their lives. The declaration has brought about a lot of good, for which we should rejoice," says Markkula.

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