Active social security aims to increase wellbeing

9.4.2014 6.50
News item N5-64332

Forced labour, unpaid work or simply the right to participate in society? Active social security has been labelled in the mass media as a ruthless way to oppress the poor. Director General Outi Antila, the chairperson of the MSAH working group set up to develop active social security policy, says the media debate on the issue is understandable, but she does not accept the allegations of forced labour.

“In the working group on active social security, we start from the positive perspective that the model could give people greater opportunities to take part in society. Above all, the aim is to prevent social exclusion.”

The overriding goal is that people who are out of work will find employment in the open labour market, or at least that people’s situation and quality of life will improve.

The working group’s mandate is to define the content of active social security, propose changes to income security and the service system, determine responsibilities for providing the new scheme and how it should be financed, propose possible legislative amendments, and evaluate the need for piloting, and initiate it.

The working group has been discussing what active social security should be in practice. In addition to existing rehabilitative work and active measures offered by the labour administration, it is considering participation in organised sports activities or adult education college courses.

Developing community work is also being mooted, such as in the form of help services for older people living alone that they could not obtain elsewhere, including yard cleaning and snow clearing.

Another aim of active social security, in addition to preventing social exclusion, is to increase the motivational character of social security. A key issue is whether a jobless person’s refusal of active social security should result in sanctions, or whether getting involved in it should be rewarded, such as by a benefit increase.

“Sanctions are already used in unemployment benefit and social assistance, which is why at least at the piloting phase of active social security we will not create new sanctions. We need to think about what incentives would be feasible.”

Who gains from active social security?

The working group has spent much time discussing who would benefit most from active social security, and to whom such measures should be directed. The pilot phase of the initiative has focused in the long-term unemployed as the target group.

“Many people who become unemployed find new work without any special interventions. But when unemployment becomes prolonged, the risk of social exclusion increases.”

Compared to other Nordic countries, in Finland only a relatively small proportion of the unemployed take part in active labour policy schemes, about 30 per cent. The EU Commission and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have proposed that Finland develop a more pro-active labour market policy.

Antila stresses that the intention is not to expand active social security to all those who are not involved in working life.

“People on family leave look after their children, and in that respect are participating. Active social security would also not affect people on old-age pensions, as they have already completed their careers. But older people could benefit from active social security, for instance if they have companion services for outdoor activity.”

Municipalities and service centres for unemployed people would be in charge of arranging active social security.

The plan is that at some stage participants would choose the tasks they would do from an e-calendar on which the activity providers would enter details of available activities. Some tasks could be done simply through enrolment, while others would require interviews or other meetings.

“An electronic tasks calendar would work for those who are more active, but we should bear in mind that others may need more assistance.”

Pilot phases

The working group on active social assistance will deliberate over the initiative until the end of this year. At present, additional resources are being sought for the pilot phases of the new policy.

There is also a need to investigate whether existing legislation or guidelines contain any elements that could prevent the introduction of active social assistance in municipalities. The provincial cities of Rauma and Paltamo, in the west and northwest of Finland, are the first to experiment with the new scheme.

Text: Mark Waller, Kimmo Vainikainen, Milla Meretniemi

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