March 2001

Wealth gap worries citizens

As citizens of one of the wealthiest nations in the world, Finns spend a surprising amount of time debating poverty. According to recent research, the greatest worry among Finns is the gap between the rich and the poor.

A warning was sounded by the Director of the Central Statistical Bureau, Timo Relander. He pointed out that the fruits of recent economic growth have been distributed unevenly, both socially and regionally. Relander's worry is that this development could erode the very consensus which has made the recent economic success possible.

The proportion of personal income in the national economy has shrunk whilst capital income has increased. People have fared poorly compared to enterprises.

Commenting on these findings, the regional daily Turun Sanomat (2 March 2001) writes in a leading article that even if the recession is now in the past, many Finns feel insecure in their everyday lives. Modernity for them is mentally unpleasant. Economic growth has not stopped redundancies which now have even started to plague companies in the new technology sector.

As worries about the wealth gap grow, people express strong belief in the welfare state. In another leading article, Turun Sanomat (3 March 2001) writes that like many other countries, Finland is coming to a turning point.

"Naked market economy has done its bit and proven that market forces alone cannot solve society's problems. The welfare state is growing again in estimation."

Indeed, 85 per cent of the Finns believe that the welfare state is worth its price.

Turun Sanomat writes that recent reports seem to suggest that there are signs of a phenomenon which has been called the return of politics. People expect politics rather than market forces to improve things. There are signs that citizens' estrangement from political parties is weakening. Parties, on their part, have found the political will to reduce the wealth gap and support people who have not gained from economic growth.

Some debate has been caused by Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen's emphasis on motivation and job increases rather than additional social benefits. Some church welfare officials have pointed out that the minimum income level is too low. They also report that the number of people receiving food aid from the church has not decreased. The need for free food handouts is so great that the church has been forced to reduce the amount of food given in order to be able to spread it among larger number of people.

A church welfare official, Pietari Jääskeläinen, interviewed in the left-wing Kansan Uutiset (2 March 2001), says that the society has been slow to react to poverty for ideological reasons. The supposition has been that by supporting the strong, crumbs will fall to the weak, he says.

"In addition, poverty has stayed in the background in the political debate because these people have been crushed and feel crushed. They have no resources of strength to defend their personal interests, not to mention group interests."

See also:

From our archive:

Immigration of labour recommended

15 January 2001

Welfare state "surrounded by confusion"

7 November 2000

New social attitudes detected in research

26 October 2000

Health care spending declines

24 July 2000

"Would inefficiency create more happiness?"

23 June 2000

Nordic model seen as a trump card

24 May 2000

Lutheran bishops in defence of the Nordic welfare State

24 February 2000

Poverty assumes modern disguises

1 February 2000

Bishops attack Anglo-American economic doctrines

March 1999

Nordic model defended by Finnish Prime Minister

January 1999

Lutheran worries about welfare state

March 1997

From Lutheranism to the crisis of modern welfare state

March 1997


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