June 2001

"Welfare state will strike back"

Whilst Finland is wealthier than ever before, it seems to be able to afford less and less social reform. How can this be explained? The question is posed by Raija Julkunen, a lecturer in social politics at the University of Jyväskylä.

Writing in Helsingin Sanomat (26 June 2001), Julkunen further asks whether the state structures have been completed to perfection. The answer is no: An endless number of worthy targets wait to receive more resources. Julkunen's list includes development aid, health service, social services, basic social security, schools, universities, research, housing, defence forces, police, the justice system and public sector wages.

Noting that a lot of money could be sunk into these targets, Julkunen adds that very little money seems to be available.

"Is this post-recession scarcity? Partly yes, but more than anything it reflects a transfer to post-expansive welfare state. This means a way of governance which aims mainly to limit public expenses. Social policy is being adapted to a market-run society and the growth of available resources is being channelled to cover the costs of an aging population."

Julkunen says that the margin for social reforms is narrow also because the country is tied to existing structures.

"Although for instance the debate about citizen's income regularly resurfaces, I would venture to say that this is pointless if one means by it a conditionless universal wage which would be enough for living. Such a radical departure from old systems is impossible."

Instead, Julkunen says that somehow subsidising low-paid jobs is a logical part of new social policy.

She writes that countries have adapted the new politics of welfare in differing ways.

"The difference between Finland and Sweden can be seen in the fact that after very similar fiscal tightness and balancing of public economy, Sweden has started to build up welfare. In Finland, brakes are still being applied as long as this is possible without political repercussions.

"Social policies which follow new rules inevitably create tension. Decision-making must build buffers against public opinion, even democracy.

"Tight fiscal policies were successful in the 90s. Growing public debt could be explained to the Finns as a threat to national existence. Problems connected with an aging population are not as efficient disciplining mechanism. It is more and more difficult to make us behave as one big Ministry of Finance. Confidence in politics and movements is raising its head. The welfare state will strike back.

"We now have undeniable opportunities for 'targeted improvement'. Most in line with new realities are the kind of investments which will reduce the looming social and economic price of past neglect. Paying off public debt is not the only way to invest in future.

"In the middle of the past decade lamentably many indicators turned in a negative direction. Much debate has been triggered by income gap, poverty and regional inequality. Indicators measuring children's welfare also showed negative trends. Children were divided into the fortunate and the unfortunate, and with children our future will become divided. During the past decade the right to children's day care was expanded but cuts harmed the quality of both day care and other services for children and schools.

"Could after-school care for school children be a remedy for alarming trends?"

See also:

For more articles go to Work and Society sections of the archive


[home] [archive] [focus]