New Government Programme contains manifold pledges

27.6.2011 9.08
News item N5-57967

MSAH Permanent Secretary Kari Välimäki sees many positive goals for the social and health administrative sector in the new Government Programme. The core issues are municipal and service structure reform and the prolonging of working life. "I hope that the policies on municipal and service structure reform will be prepared by the end of this year," says Kari Välimäki concerning the Government Programme of the new Finnish government.

The Government Programme is the action plan that each new government draws up following parliamentary elections, jointly agreed by the parties represented in the government. The Government Programme of Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen's administration, which comprises six political parties, was presented to Parliament on 22 June. Its coverage of social and health matters, coupled with employment promotion under the heading of Welfare Policy, contains detailed objectives on key areas of social policy.

The stated aim of the new Government Programme is to continue to develop Finland as a Nordic welfare state and as a society that bears responsibility for its own citizens and its international obligations regionally and globally. The programme stresses that the Nordic welfare model is necessarily based on high employment, a competitive economy and equal services and care for all. This, it states, has proven to be the best social system, combining social cohesion with competitiveness.

The government states that its main emphasis in developing social protection is to improve the quality, availability and impact of services and the development of the benefit system so that everyone has a secure income. It also says that it will highlight the importance of public services as ways to guarantee equality and equity.

The scope for municipalities to organize services will be strengthened. Social and health promotion and reducing inequalities will be taken into account in all social decision-making. Services will emphasise prevention and the position of patients and clients.

High employment is the key to welfare

Välimäki points out that in the current financial climate the government faces various constraints.  "Money is tight. We do not have the leverage to change everything. The most important thing is that here in Finland there is work and that people manage to remain in work. It is this that makes the cake of which there must be enough to share."

The guiding principle of Nordic social policy that work generates welfare remains acutely relevant amidst global economic uncertainty. The government pledges to ensure that all people capable of working are given the opportunity and incentive to do so. The aim is also to continue with efforts to extent working life and at the same time creating a favourable environment for business activities.

The government stresses the need to improve the incentives for taking employment and to develop the employment-promoting interface between work incomes and social security. This includes the continuation of work to reform the benefits system. The government aims to improve efforts to tackle work incapacity through preventive means, opportunities for employment for people with partial work incapacity. It also details its work in other areas of employment promotion, such as improved occupational health and safety provisions, rehabilitation, and the quality of working life.

Tackling poverty, inequality and social exclusion

The government is making the tackling of poverty, inequality and social exclusion one of its main areas of emphasis. The Government Programme stresses the need to break the intergenerational transmission of poverty and social exclusion and its intention to narrow income, welfare and health inequalities. Primary services are to be strengthened and reformed, and security assured for older people. Taxation is the main basis of funding social policy and therefore the nexus between employment and welfare is strong.

The government will invest in preventive work concerning social and health problems, mental health care and efforts to cut substance abuse, and aims to improve income security and prevent the social segregation of residential areas.

To these ends the government is preparing new legislation on services for older people and a broad-based action programme to reduce poverty, inequality and social exclusion. From the beginning of next year the basic unemployment allowance and the labour market subsidy will be increased by €100 a month and the basic component of social assistance by six percent. In addition, €5 million more will be spent on assistance for single parents.

Välimäki is pleased with the pledges by the new government to improve the situation of those in vulnerable situations in society, and that in addition the government will invest in the prevention of social exclusion among the young. €250 million will be added to the basic unemployment allowance.

The government is also committed to improving the terrain for honest businesses to flourish by rooting out the grey economy.

Structural reforms

The Government Programme also places special emphasis on bolstering the security of the funding of social and health services. This, according to Välimäki, requires a major reconfiguration of services, something that is now on the cards as the government intends to push ahead with municipal and service structure reform. The government will work out the structural reform of social and health services as a part of this broader issue of changes to the service structure.

"How a basic structure for robust municipalities is brought about is a highly political issue. It will be interesting to see what kinds of methods the government will use to realise the reform of the municipal and service structure," says Välimäki.

Under pressure

Under the direction of the Prime Minister's Office Government Programmes are designed as strategic documents. The new programme is a comparatively detailed document. "Understandably the multi-party government had to make a more detailed programme. There are a few points that pose challenges. For example with the reform of the municipal and service structure all the components have to be allowed to manoeuvre so that they are compatible."

There is currently an exceptional budget process underway in the government ministries and some €60 million in cuts are still to be allocated.

"Already during several government terms administration has been curtailed and cut. I am worried about how civil servants will manage. We hardly have any spare staff who could fill in, for instance during periods of sick leave."

Briskly on the move

Following the summer break, civil servants will go over with the ministers agreed matters contained in the government programme, and the rhythm of preparation and implementation for the whole government term of office. During September a timetable will be drawn up for all legislative reforms to be carried out during the government's term.

"We have to be patient in ensuring that the whole cargo is not offloaded at once. Some items of the government programme are urgent. Work in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health must start immediately on the agreed adjustments to social benefits for the beginning of next year," Välimäki explains.

He hopes that there will also be sufficient movement on the new Biobank Act. The Bill lapsed during the previous parliament, as there was insufficient time to deal with it.

Work on the law on services for older people is only just beginning. "How will it be connected to the overall reform of the Act on Social Welfare? What will be written into the law? How much will the activities regulated by the Act cost? Who will pay - and who is old?", Välimäki muses.

Irma Heiskanen-Haarala and Mark Waller