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Study: Families with children struggle more to make ends meet

Families with children receive less in social benefits than other segments of the population.

Pieni lapsi leikkii leikkipuistossa.
Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Families with children are more financially insecure than other groups in society and there are large variations in how well they fare, according to new research from the National Institute for Health and Welfare, THL.

The study of differences in income and wellbeing among families with lower comprehensive school-aged children was based on a 2017 survey of 33,000 parents of fourth- and fifth-grade children, 86 percent of whom were mothers.

A Statistics Finland analysis of the data gathered indicated that since the year 2000, up to 36 percent of families with children have experienced varying levels of financial distress. As many as a quarter of families with children found that their expenses outstripped their incomes.

Real value of child allowance falling

The THL said however that the proportion of families experiencing financial distress has shrunk since 2015. THL research head Minna Salmi speculated that the reason could be an easing of the wider financial crisis and an increase in employment.

Salmi also pointed out that the position of single parents has improved because of a small increase in the national child care allowance paid to children under the age of 17. She added that even relatively small increases in income could lift an individual above the poverty line, or conversely, it could push them below it.

She said however that the real value of income transfers to families with children by way of social benefits has declined since the 1990s.

"Social security income transfers to families with children are lower than in many other groups," she commented.

Research has shown that it is possible to provide relief for overburdened parents by increasing the real value of income transfers to families with children.

More services needed

Financial insecurity is also reflected in the uptake of family-oriented services such as those provided by school nurses and doctors as well as psychologists and counselors.

"On the one hand, there’s a high level of usage of these services, but on the other hand, services have not been available when they are needed," Salmi observed.

The research chief said that service providers should be able to bring up the subject of a family’s financial means when relevant and should be able to guide parents to seek assistance from other possible channels.

"Increasing incomes as well as service resources are both important. It wouldn’t be enough to focus on just one area."

The study also indicated that boosting incomes would also ease pressure on services, while eroding incomes would create a continuous need for new services.

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