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Survey: Government failing to reduce inequality in Finland

Social and health care professionals say that cuts to basic benefits have deepened poverty in Finland.

Mies nukkuu seinänvierustalla Helsingissä.
Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

A majority of social and health care professionals believe that inequality has increased in Finland over the past 10 years, suggests a newly-released survey by SOSTE, an umbrella organisation for social and health care NGOs.

It found that a majority of respondents believed that inequality had increased over the past 10 years. They also determined that the centre-right Sipilä government had failed in its bid to reduce inequity. Last autumn, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä admitted that his government’s policies had disproportionately affected the poor.

Some four out of five social workers said that the government had performed either poorly or rather poorly with respect to reducing inequality. More than half of directors of the Social Insurance Institution (Kela) and social and health care workers also held the same view.

Inadequate benefits

At the same time, respondents said that there was room for improvement in national benefits policy. Some 60 to 70 percent said that the level of basic benefits such as labour market support, are currently too low.

A majority also agreed that income support is being used to supplement low basic income levels.

“Social workers say that index reductions to basic benefits have plunged their customers deeper into poverty. The level of primary benefits must rise so that people will turn to income support only as a last-resort and temporary measure,” SOSTE specialist Anna Järvinen said in a statement.

Primary benefits include support mechanisms such as unemployment benefit, pensions and study grants.

More carrots, fewer sticks

According to the survey, respondents said that the current income support system creates too much marginalisation. Some 40 percent of social and health care managers and 56 percent of social workers said they believed that sanctions associated with income support increase inequality.

“The social barometer sends a strong message that incentives to work must be increased by developing services and a holistic approach to customer [management] rather than [imposing] sanctions,” Järvinen added.

Additionally, a majority of the 1,000-odd social and health care managers, social workers and Kela directors said they supported the idea of a basic income.

The survey was conducted earlier this year. An advance release indicated that managers in the field were increasingly critical of the government’s impending overhaul of social and health care services.

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