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NGO: Singles facing high costs, discrimination

Finland’s Association for Singles says singles face discrimination for services, are ignored in social structures and bear a heavier tax burden. Millions of Finns living alone have found out the hard way that the single life isn’t always a party.

Nainen (selin) istuu järven rannalla, katselee järvellä olevaa soutuvenettä.
Image: Heli Mäkikauppila / Yle

Millions of Finns living alone have come to the same conclusion: the single life can be a much more expensive proposition than living with a partner.

Raija Eeva is the founder of the Finnish Association for Singles. She has compiled a long list of services, social structures and even tax practices that treat singles differently – and not for the better.

In many municipalities singles pay the same for waste disposal as do couples and families with children. A single who pays for an expensive kitchen remodeling job is only entitled to a single claim for a tax deduction, while a couple who undertakes the same project can claim the rebate twice.

“And we think these kinds of situations are acceptable! We think that it’s acceptable and fair to discriminate against people who live alone,” Eeva said.

“If I were to say that a social democrat or a Swedish-speaking person or an immigrant couldn’t get the same tax rebate as someone else, there’d be a hue and cry. But apparently you can suffer injustice based on your legal or family status,” Eeva continued.

Coupled with an aging population, single living has emerged as a distinctive modern population trend. The majority of singles living alone fall into the 35 – 64 year-old age group. They include students, career men and women, the unemployed and divorced, and early retirees. Most of them are ordinary Finns like Tomi Fleming.

Singles face a money crunch

Flemming is a 38 year-old technician who lives in Turku and works at a company that makes speakers and sound systems.  He’s politically active in his spare time and also enjoys nature walks and collecting mushrooms.

Flemming constantly turns to his mother for financial assistance and his biggest financial outlay goes toward housing.  He’s always wanted to own his own home but has only managed to purchase a small studio flat. He can’t afford a mortgage for a larger place and a bank wouldn’t necessarily consider him an attractive client alone.

“I can’t afford to save. At least my money has been spent on something though. If disaster strikes and I lose my job I’ll have no income at all,” Flemming said.

“So at least I have some money tied up in these walls. I don’t have anything else for any kind of rainy day,” he added.

Finnish housing policy has long attempted to fill the gap in the shortage of available housing. Even so there's been a decline in the number of studio and one-bedroom units available and rising prices due to insatiable demand.

According to Statistics Finland the average price per square metre for a studio apartment is just over 3,100 euros, while the price for a two bed-room home or larger is about 2,350 euros – 800 euros cheaper. In the capital area the price gap is even larger – more than 1,300 euros per square metre. The price difference also holds for the rental market, with studios more expensive to rent than larger homes.

Flemming’s mother helps with the cost of car ownership and maintenance. He covers all of his other living expenses alone. Two years ago Statistics Finland pulled data for the daily Aamulehti showing that for every euro a single person spent on housing and living expenses, a couple forked out just 27 cents. For Flemming that’s a no-brainer.

“A couple has two incomes and on top of that they split all their costs in half,” he explained.

Single life not just about relationships

Living Single’s Raija Eeva noted that society doesn’t frame single life as an economic issue but casts it in the framework of relationships.

She added to the litany of cases in which singles are at a disadvantage compared to others.

A single unemployed person must accept work in any town as long as there is accommodation available. However singles are not eligible for work-related housing deductions, which are reserved for couples or parents.

“No one thinks that a single person may have an elderly mother or father he or she may be caring for. That senior could be completely dependent on that single person,” she added.

An employer may purchase insurance for his or her employee. If the employee dies a claim will be paid out to a widow, widower or the employee’s children. In the case of a single, the insurance company gets to pocket the claim.

Widows and children pay a lower inheritance tax rate. If a single inherits, he or she automatically pays a higher inheritance tax, she pointed out.

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