Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto is a member of the Finnish Parliament and the Chair of the Green parliamentary group. This post has been published on her blog (click here to see the Finnish version) and is translated here with her authorisation.
Translated by Noora Salonen
Sipilä’s government is stealing the citizens’ trust in politics. The first cuts the government wishes to make are directed at those who already have very little.
Prime minister Sipilä has said that all Finns will face cuts but this is not the case. Us fortunate ones lose nothing – the new ‘boat tax’ targeted at high-income individuals is like stealing a lolly from the minister’s mouth. Saving the well offs from heightened taxation combined with social security cuts targeted at low-income citizens sends out a clear message: the government has ceased to pursue a welfare state where taxation is meant to even out differences in income and decrease poverty. This means losing faith in the government for many.
The majority of government cuts are directed at low-income individuals and families, some of whom rely on public services. The cuts made to benefits will only increase differences in income and child poverty, and will lead to more people ending up in low-income jobs. Additionally, the cuts will increase the amount of elderly living in poverty. Public services are weakened and service charges increased.
The government turns a blind eye to poverty, inequality, wrecks the basics of a welfare state and forgets all about equality. When it comes to gender equality, the government is taking a long step back.
If by looking at the government programme, one had to derive what kind of Finland the current policymakers want to create, one might think that the government wishes for Finland to become a country in regression, where children of poor families are robbed of their right for an equal chance at studying and where young women are apprehensive about having children.
Sipilä’s government programme is the first programme since Paavo Lipponen’s time to not include a statement about striving for gender equality nor does it specify any means to gain equality. This leaves an ugly mark in the history of Finnish equality. The government programme has always had a crucial part in promoting and advancing equality. The only remark about gender equality in the programme is an announcement that equality between men and women already exists in Finland. This notion shows incredible lack of knowledge and indifference by the government.
The government does not specify the impact of cuts and recovery measures on income distribution and neither does it talk about the effect these have on both genders. Is this because the government is ashamed of its own policies? Even though the government does not evaluate the impact of their cuts based on gender, it is clear that the matter is a gendered one. The majority of index cuts – 58% – impacts women rather than men.
This is also echoed on the cuts made to public economy, where the majority of cuts affect female-weighted industries. 72% of all public sector workers are female. This means that public sector cuts inevitably lead to job losses among women. Any cuts directed at local councils and their tasks combined with the government’s threats to give local council the freedom to not abide to some parts of the current legislation that deals with basic services, will also lead to women losing their jobs.
And the impact of government cuts on public sector hits female dominated fields hardest and increases unemployment among women. The government leads on with right-wing social politics where the care industry slips from public to private. When something like this takes place, it’s the women who will suffer the most.
The planned cuts on annual leave accumulated during parental leave directly affects women, since over 90% of all parental leave is utilised by women. Cutting back on personnel on the care of the elderly, increasing group sizes for day care and schools all influence predominantly female workplaces.
A perfect example of this is the gender-biased cuts made in day care and the subjective dismissal of right to day care by unemployed parents. The government limits right to day care, increases day care charges and grows the group sizes of day care facilities. By increasing the group size of day care centres you decrease the quality of early childhood education and escalate the inequality between children. Growing group sizes also means reducing the numbers of workers which leads to unemployment in this female dominant industry.
Dismantling the right to day care has a bigger effect on women than men, because women carry the greater burden when it comes to child care. This is why dismantling the right to day care has a negative impact on working women. Why would the government weaken the chances of women getting employed if they mean to increase the rate of employment?
The government is blind to the inequality and poverty of single parent households. This is why they see free day care merely as a negative thing. The majority of single parents are women and they are often also the ones who make the least amount of money in society. Why does the government wish to punish the poorest single parents? Why do they consider initiating day care charges for the lowest-income families instead of creating a new, higher charge for those families in society who make enough money to take the hit?
If the goal is to encourage single parents to take up jobs, it makes no sense to make it more difficult to have access to day care. Instead the day care system should be made more diverse to accommodate part-time working parents. Limiting the right to day care is in garish conflict with the government’s efforts in increasing employment.
In the current job market, where more and more jobs are temporary, it becomes increasingly important that the day care system supports working parents. By restricting day care, the government hold women back from having jobs. Apparently they wish to remove women from the job market entirely.
A fully working day care system and the right to day care enable parents to have full-time jobs. Furthermore, it is also a matter of children’s right to early education. We must support the right of children of unemployed and low-income families to this education. According to many studies, no other education is as beneficial to a child than early education and if they are denied access to it, there looms the danger of creating a class society among children. Early education is especially important to children who come from poor backgrounds.
One thing that the government refuses to alter is the current care benefit that is paid to take care of children under the age of 3, that distinctly maintains the pay gap between men and women. The care benefit creates a welfare trap and increases the danger of poverty. This is one fact that the government will not discuss. Apparently the right-wing bourgeois government wishes mothers to stay at home.
It seems the government wishes also to increase the chances of poverty and lack of education being passed on from one generation to the next, seen as they wish to make it harder for children of poor families to enter education by removing the index from student benefits and putting emphasis on taking out student loans instead.
The government aims to allow all temporary work contracts that last for less than a year without any specific reason. This means that the amount of women working temporary jobs increases. Most temporary work is done by women and especially by young women who are in the ideal age of starting a family.
So the government programme increases temporary employment for women but what the programme doesn’t contain is dealing out parental leave evenly between both parents. Why not? As mentioned before, much of temporary employment falls on women. The government-planned extension of probationary period affects women in particular, too.
By lowering the entry demands of people looking to work for local councils and the pay cuts that follow such a procedure, will take its toll on women, since women form the majority of all local council workforce. However, the attempt to abolish gender pay gap is not mentioned in the government programme at all. How can we promote equal pay in the future if it is not something that the government is interested in, especially when all collaboration with trade unions is based on threats alone?
The government states they wish to increase access to in-home childminders, but they appear to want to do this without actively encouraging any new workforce to become childminders. Does this mean that the government wishes to increase unpaid care work?
The planned increase in fees of long-term hospitalisation, assisted living facilities, in-home services and other social and health care patient charges are felt among women in particular since women form the majority of pensioners living in poverty.
Lowering pensioner housing benefits affects low-income females the most, because the poorest of the pensioners who don’t own property but rent it, lose their benefit in the cut.
The government must stop making lives worse for families with children and the poor. The government must cancel their shameful intention of cutting child benefit and unemployment benefit by 120 million euros.
Why won’t the government maintain peace in society? Why do they provoke distrust and dissatisfaction by unjust policies?
The government is part of the tripartite negotiations with the social partners, and it is crucial that the government pushes forequality in employment and in the workplace. The government must stick to its goals in narrowing the gender pay gap. Also the position of the self-employed, freelancers and others in a similar situation must be improved; this requires an active approach by the government in tripartite negotiations.
There is time yet to revise the direction that the government is headed. To ensure the progress of equality, the government ought to draft an equality programme that the entire government vouches to follow. Previously drafted equality programmes and monitoring their success has proven to be effective, and they should be continued. The question of gender should be included in all important schemes and projects or else it leads to politics that is completely indifferent of gender.
Any economic reforms are sustainable only if effects of cuts and recovery measures on men and women and between different incomes are evaluated openly and honestly.