Some days ago, a study published by Maria Ohisalo (photo) with Pr Juho Saari from the University of Eastern Finland was analysing the development of bread queues in the country. There are today around 20 000 people using this service offered not by the state, but by churches and specific support organisations. The worrying fact is that the people involved are mainly of Finnish nationality, they are pensioners or unemployed with minimum subsidies.Ohisalo, who is also a candidate for the Greens at the next parliamentary election, notes that the need for food aid is a manifestation of poverty and deprivation throughout the country. Those who accept the helping hand clearly experienced poorer living conditions, less faith in the authorities and weakened well-being. Parents tended to find taking a handout humiliating and the research also revealed that older members of the food queue had a tendency to under-utilise social assistance.
In parallel, since 1987, Finland has developed a programme to fight homelessness. It has been quite successful, with a reduction of the number of homeless people from 18 000 persons and families in 1987 to less than 8 000 in 2006. Since then, the global number is slightly on the increase, with a continued reduction of the persons in institutions, hostels and shelters and a strong increase of those temporarily living with friends and relatives.
Another interesting fact concerning Finland is the data from an OECD study measuring the poverty relative rates for the different categories of populations in the OECD countries: if Finland has a very low poverty rate for children (best of OECD) and adults between 25 and 65 (3rd after Norway and Iceland), the situation is less brilliant for elderly people and still worse for young people between 18 and 25.
These are statistics, and they show national shortcomings for the recent years, they do not give an idea about the future. And the future is looking really bad: the government is going to cut in the 2015 budget in child allowances, expenditure arising from the Sickness Insurance Act, public employment and business services (!), unemployment security expenditure, but the main cuts are expected in central government transfers and grants to local government (around 5% lower than in 2014).
What we have seen in the last months is that the government and municipalities are not able to reduce their own staff, partly for legal reasons and partly for self-preservation of the civil servants’ employment: municipalities cut into subsidies given to the churches and those organisations taking care of the most vulnerable persons, which may be catastrophic in crisis times.
It will be quite difficult for the parties in the government alliance, who have been approving the 2015 budget, to criticize this situation, even if the population knows that the measures taken by the government are apparently inefficient in fighting deficits and the slow growth, and adding to increasing social problems. But it is to be expected that the Centre party (Keskusta), the Greens (Vihreät) and the Finns’ Party (Perussuomalaiset) are going to use it. It will be interesting to see if the Social Democrats and the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto), normal supporters of a strong social net for vulnerable people, will get back some credibility after these years in the government.