What is the situation in the Green Party?
People see that we are responsible, not just opposing everything. We have also been saying that we are supporting the government in some places, such as the social and healthcare reform, if it would reduce the inequalities in health and well-being, as we know that it is the reason why we should definitely reform the whole system. Everybody in the parliament thinks so at least in their speeches, actions though tell the truth. And also, the basic income experiment — we have already supported the idea for years, so we are happy that the government is proposing it now.
But there is a lot that we have been criticizing. Now when we are able to show our line, it is not the same situation as when we were sitting in the government. People might say “well, you were sitting there in the last period, and why did you not do this or that then?” and I would argue that as a medium-sized party and as part of a coalition government you cannot always get everything through, but you should be there to do your best. And we have always been opposing for example cuts to education system.
It is absurd that people are talking about where to create new jobs and how to innovate, how to make products that people would want to buy from Finland and at the same time education – a base for all this is diluted. Education is the reason for Finland’s past successes, it cannot be abandoned. Now, it is a nonsense: they are cutting on the education from the beginning, already from the childcare, obliging schools to have bigger groups of children and restricting the children’s subjective right to daycare. This is against all the evidence from the studies that have been made on behavioral sciences, poverty and on social exclusion … So, of course, we have been opposing it.
But we are not only opposing, even if the media are just reporting the fights and the criticism. We have our solutions; we have a shadow government program and we made a shadow government budget. We made a list of our structural projects, which are important for Finland’s future.
For example, one of our core projects is the integration of the refugees. That should be one of the biggest things that we are aiming for, because we might have thousands of people relying only on our social security, but not being able to work, thus not being able to pay taxes, not being able to become members of this society, not really participating in the society. At an international level, there are things to do, for example in the field of conflict prevention or development aid, in which we have always been very active. The situation is dramatic, when the government is cutting the development aid and complaining about the number of refugees, it is very contradictory.
Does that mean that you support Timo Soini, Jari Lindström, and Juha Sipilä, who were speaking about a law to be voted before summer allowing asylum seekers to work when they arrive?
I doubt that we will see this law soon. It can be too difficult for the True Finns to accept. Their voters are going to say that there are Finns who are unemployed, that we should give them the jobs first, even if we know that there are jobs that the Finns are not taking. But we think that everybody should be able to work, so we would vote for this law.
Another big problem that is actually relating to everybody, Finns, the immigrants, the refugees, is the housing politics. And we already know that in the Helsinki area, there are a lot of jobs that people cannot come and take, because they cannot afford the cost of living here. And the housing costs are something that the government is ignoring quite a lot. That’s one of the biggest reasons for poverty, in many ways. So we would like to see it addressed.
We should also be finding better ways to share refugees between the EU countries. There are talks at EU level, but I am not sure that they will go through, even if it looks like common sense. There is a tendency in the government, because of the True Finns especially, to oppose anything related to giving more power to the EU. But, as nothing is done, we have relatively more refugees in Finland than in many other countries, such as France, which has more than 10 times our population. Jussi Halla-Aho, the True Finn member of the European Parliament, has been saying “no” to this burden division, and we see the result!
Instead of doing things together, the EU is outsourcing the problems to Turkey right now. I have this feeling we are going back to these colonialist and isolationist times, we are using other countries’ resources, and pushing the responsibility to other countries. And we are building walls between countries. I am ashamed of this evolution.
Among the Greens, you have been probably the one working the most on the question of poverty. What is the situation now in Finland?
I have been trying my best. Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto, who is spokeswoman of the Parliament group for the Greens, is a really strong fighter against poverty and is one of my role models. What we see, according to research, is that most of the Finns are doing quite well, but some of them are falling through safety nets. So, we should tackle the holes in the social security system and really lift those people who are not doing well in this society.
The government should do some analysis about their policies before they push them, because they behave strangely: they are pushing some reforms without really knowing what will be the real impact on our society, and what will be the real result. For example, will they create inequalities between genders or between different income decile groups? What will be the impact on children? On ageing citizens? On our health?
There was one analysis done by the THL (Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos), the national health agency. They studied how the budget will affect poverty. They found that the government program would not create more inequalities. No improvements, but a status quo. And then, a couple of weeks later, the government proposed to have the 400 million cuts, and most of that will happen from the social security. And the biggest problem is that the government is saying that this is an action that everybody takes part into. It is everybody’s job to make Finland better again. But we see where the burden goes. The big burden goes to those who are already not doing very well. And the biggest problem is that there will be cumulative effects, some of the people will actually suffer much more than some of the others.
In addition, it is not seriously assessed. When somebody drops from the social security system, he or she gets the income support (toimeentulotuki), the last resort social security system. The government’s decision will have a cost, as it will mean that more people will drop from the primary social security and get the income support. And it has not been included in the calculations. And that’s also problematic because people who are dependent on that last-resort income support get easily stuck in this system. It is meant to be temporary, but more and more people become long-term receivers.
Have you seen some changes in the breadlines during this winter?
The last study in Helsinki was made 4 years ago and a new one is coming in autumn 2016. What the actors who are working in the field are saying is that they are getting longer, with more people going there. Some people are saying that there are maybe more immigrants, also. But according to surveys it is mainly the Finnish elderly and unemployed people being dependent on food aid. So, of course, if the social security net is not helping the least well off, of course at some point people will find the breadlines, too, it will be the result of the present policies and a question of institutionalization of charitable aid.
You are preparing for the election campaign in Helsinki. What are going to be the main themes?
Our ideas were supported in the parliamentary elections, and we will also offer our alternatives in the municipality level. We are now the second biggest party in Helsinki, but we have all the chances to become the biggest party in the city. If we show that the Greens can grow up to be the biggest party in the capital of Finland, that will also send a message to the whole Finland. And of course, at the same time, we are trying to get more candidates in our lists all over Finland, because we have a lot of municipalities where there are no Greens or only few Greens in power. That is our challenge, and I am doing my best in order to also tour around Finland, I help the local actors all over Finland to campaign.
The rest in the form: Now when we are able to show our line, it is not the same situation as when we were sitting in the government. People might say “well, you were sitting there in the last period, and why did you not do this or that then?” and I would argue that as a medium-sized party and as part of a coalition government you cannot always get everything through, but you should be there to do your best. And we have always been opposing for example cuts to education system.