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Rising numbers of Finland's Millennials on disability pensions

A psychotherapist says she is concerned about the increase of young people living on disability pensions in Finland. There's been a significant decline in the number of older working-age people on disability pensions over the past decade - but disability pension figures are rising for those aged 16-34. The younger demographic now accounts for 10 percent of the 200,000 people on disability pensions.

Henkilö istuu puiston penkillä pimenevässä illassa ja tuijottaa merelle.
File photo. Image: Yle

According to Statistics Finland, the numbers of people living on disability pensions between the ages of 55-64 have significantly declined over the past decade. But among the 16-34 aged set, the numbers of people deemed unfit to work have been rising since 2004.

In Finland, people aged 16 years or over who are disabled or have a chronic illness can be paid disability allowance "if their ability to function remains diminished for at least a year and their illness or injury causes impairment and need of assistance," according to the country's social services agency Kela.

Between the years of 2000-2016 there were about 20,000 people living on disability pensions in the 16-34 age group. Now that figure is around 23,000 people, according to the statistics agency.

Psychotherapist Monica Halinen says this trend - which has been gradually expanding in scope for more than a decade - is worrying.

"It's upsetting and utterly catastrophic to see this trend. It's terrible for society, for the youths themselves and for all of us. Many are just hanging in the balance at all levels [of life]," Halinen says.

She says that she'd like to see employers increase the level of available intern positions they offer, saying it would help create learning opportunities for those with little to no working life experience.

"Nowadays many people head into their careers as educated, competent workers. Many young people don't have that opportunity," Halinen says.

Difficult for some to keep up

In her role as a psychotherapist, Halinen says that she's called for better and increased career assistance for young adults, because they need help and advice on many levels.

Halinen also says many people simply find it difficult to keep up with the increased pace of life these days.

"Many can't run that fast," she says. "Their hyperactivity increases and it can lead to depression - there's evidence [which cofirms] this."

The trend of an increasing number of younger people on the sidelines of the working field isn't a Finnish phenomenon; similar statistics are also reportedly found across Europe.

Head of education at the Finnish Centre for Pensions, Barbro Lillqvist says that working life these days demands many skills and abilities that some people do not always have. She says it's difficult to get a job for someone who doesn't have one or more of those skill sets.

No job, no school: 18% of youth aged 20-24

A year ago the international group Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published the results of a study which took a look at the education and employment situations of 30 OECD-member countries.

Their report, Education at a Glance, showed that some 18.3 percent of Finnish youth between the ages of 20-24 did not study, work or take part in internships.

That figure has risen steadily since 2005, when some 12 percent of 20-24 year-olds were in a similar situation.

The Finnish Centre for Pensions published a report about disability pension incomes in the country. The report underscored just how low the income levels of younger people on disability are.

Younger disability pension recipients without some kind of working life - or income in general - behind them receive some 700 to 800 euros per month.

The lowest level of pension the agency pays out - called a guarantee pension - is about 760 euros per month, but the government is planning to increase that sum at the beginning of next year.

The Pension Centre's Lillqvist says that the government is making investments in the country's younger residents, particularly those with a decreased ability to work.

"A lot is being done about the situation today because many have noticed the trend. But a lot more could be done," Lillqvist says.

She says that many younger people living on disability pensions still live at home with their parents and that life becomes increasingly financially challenging once they move out on their own.

"Many young pensioners may have never had a job, so they haven’t paid into their pension either. We hope that as many people as possible would be able to work in some way," Lillqvist says.

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