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Thursday's papers: Budget tweaks, tougher on crime, easier access to mental health care, and home is a dangerous place

The top domestic news item in Thursday's Finnish newspaper press is the government's latest plan for state spending and for tuning the national economy.

Pääministeri Juha Sipilä (kesk) ja valtiovarainministeri Petteri Orpo (kok) hallituksen kehysriihen loppuinfossa Helsingissä 11. huhtikuuta
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre Party) and Finance Minister Petteri Orpo (National Coalition) at a government press conference in Helsinki on Wednesday. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The Finnish cabinet yesterday wrapped up two days of talks threshing out a budget framework covering the years 2019-2022.

Helsingin Sanomat quotes Centre Party Prime Minister Juha Sipilä as saying that "the impossible became possible", patting his government on the back for boosting employment and turning around the rise in state debt.

The paper notes, however, that this latest round of talks did not settle all of the outstanding issues of contention among government parties. One major stumbling block has been a call for more labour market flexibility, allowing for local, rather that national-level agreement on working hours.

This was not agreed upon, but instead, the government moved to make it easier for small companies with fewer than 20 workers to fire personnel.

At the top of the list of what Helsingin Sanomat sees as the most significant outcomes of the budget framework talks is a plan to spend around 100 million euros on a package of employment and retraining measures. Among these is a pilot programme aimed at helping people who have been on extended parental leave to get back into the job market.

The government also decided to expand the types of professional education and training courses that are approved for unemployed people who fall under the controversial, so-called "activation model" which is targeted at motivating jobless benefit recipients to more actively seek work.

This policy, which has been widely criticised, was not a subject of debate in this week's talks, but the government has decided to re-examine it at a later date.

Tougher laws, tougher sentences

The government's latest round of policy negotiations also approved a package of proposed changes to criminal law brought to the table by Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen.

The Turku daily Turun Sanomat reports that among the proposals are tougher sentences for the sexual abuse of minors. A revised child rape statute will also be written into the law, carrying a sentence ranging from 4 to 12 years. These are changes that Häkkinen pledged shortly after taking office last autumn.

Yet another change in court practice is the reintroduction of the possibility of converting fines into jail time. Under this system, people who fail to pay fines in cash can be ordered by a court to pay in time spent behind bars.

Turun Sanomat quoted the Justice Minister as saying that the use of converting fines to prison sentences needs to be reformed and expanded so that fines are taken more seriously.

The plan calls for police to turn over to the courts cases in which people sentenced to fines repeatedly disregard them. The guideline being proposed is for action to be taken if someone fails to pay seven fines for similar offences during a year.

Easier access to psychotherapy

According to the Oulu-based Kaleva, Finland's Social Insurance Institution, Kela, is making it easier to access psychotherapy services, especially for young people.

At present, the threshold to seeking therapy may be too high for some people, as individuals must themselves find a suitable therapist, and the processing time for Kela approval averages 27 days. Younger people, in particular often experience access to therapy difficult.

Under the new plan healthcare personnel will forward recommendations for psychotherapy so that patients themselves will not have to separately apply.

In 2016, over 31,000 people sought out therapeutic mental health care services. Over a third of them were young people under the age of 30. The main reasons for seeking therapy are depression and anxiety.

Accidents a "national health problem"

Jyväskylä's Keskisuomalainen tells us that tomorrow, Friday the 13th, is "National Accident Day". With that in mind, it reports on statistics showing that accidents can be classified as a major health concern.

Figures from Statistics Finland show that men are much more accident prone, with males accounting for up to 80 percent of accidental deaths.

Also, close to 80 percent of accidents that result in injury happen in the home and during leisure time. These are most typically bruises, cuts and sprains.

One major factor in accidents noted by the paper is a lack of sleep. This, it says, is estimated to contribute to up to one-sixth of all road accidents.

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