Government cuts hurt all Finns, including children and the middle class, says researcher

The cuts planned by the Finnish government will hit everyone, and society will pay the price. All Finns will be affected, not just disadvantaged and low-income groups.

The cuts currently planned by the Finnish government will be painful for many people. Anne Kouvonen, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Helsinki, is particularly concerned about children.

“Families on low incomes will face the fallout.”

Kouvonen studies health inequalities between social groups. Research has shown that persistent low income is damaging, especially for children.

Childhood poverty and financial stress are associated with insecurity, low education levels, mental health problems, addiction and unemployment in later life. All these have negative health effects.

“Health inequalities emerge early in life. That’s what’s most devastating.”

Increasing health inequalities

The government led by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (National Coalition Party) is planning cuts targeting groups that are already struggling financially, such as housing benefit recipients, unemployed persons, family carers and students.

Kouvonen is frustrated. Although politicians justify cuts with efforts to save money and curb public debt, cutting benefits actually costs us dearly.

Studies have shown that financial cuts are clearly connected with increasing health inequalities. Kouvonen mentions the UK as an example.

When the Labour Party came to power in 1997, it began to invest especially in child wellbeing. Health gaps narrowed.

But when the coalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats took over in 2010, benefits were cut. The life expectancy of the poorest 10% of the population declined, whereas that of the affluent continued to increase.

Risk of more people unfit for work

Anne Kouvonen says that Finland is now pursuing similar policies as those implemented in the UK. This will exacerbate social disadvantage and thereby increase costs.

The effects will not be fully visible until today’s children have grown up. A specific risk is that more people will be assessed as unfit for work for mental health reasons.

This is difficult to reconcile with Finland’s ageing population.

“We can’t afford to have young adults rendered unfit for work. We need every single person in our country. But you have to be healthy enough to work.”

Inadequate use of research knowledge

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health recently published a report outlining measures to reduce health inequalities.

Kouvonen was a member of the scholarly expert group drawing up the report, listing concrete solutions that would immediately help in reducing inequality. Further information on the report is available here (in Finnish).

“It’s the best possible summary of what should be done.”

The report was published after the Finnish parliamentary election in April 2023 to provide government negotiators with access to relevant data.

Kouvonen says parts of the report were indeed taken into consideration, but the key issue was neglected: the poverty of families with children will not be reduced.

“If we were to focus on our country’s increased health inequalities rather than on cuts, we’d be making a major investment in the future.”

Private care for thousands of euros a month

“The middle class should not think that the cuts won’t affect them – they will. The exacerbation of social disadvantage will increase levels of insecurity and crime, which affects all of us,” Kouvonen notes.

“And if you live long enough and happen to develop a memory disorder, there’s no guarantee you’ll have access to publicly funded care. At this rate, there simply won’t be enough care to go around.”

Living full-time in a care home costs from €3,000 to €6,000 per month. On top of that, you must pay for your medicines and other costs.

Few people can afford to pay for their care.