Social Welfare Act being revamped

6.7.2009 11.24
News item N5-50216
The Finnish Social Welfare Act, one of the key pillars of the country's social policy, is being reformed to take account of altered circumstances. Reijo Väärälä, Deputy Director General of the MSAH Department for Social and Health Services, says that the bases of the Social Welfare Act, the scope of their application and the purpose of the law have endured fairly well. "But the changes that have taken place in the operational environment require that the law be reassessed."

Väärälä is the deputy chairperson of the working group set up by the MSAH to revamp social welfare legislation. He has a long list of changes that affect the operating environment that have to be taken into account in reforming the Act.

Population ageing, above all, affects all areas of societal activity and poses challenges to the joint work between different sectors. This has to be reflected in the reformed legislation.

There have also been changes in the situation of citizens and residents in Finland. Needs and demands have altered.

New actors are now involved in the social welfare service sector. There is a strong tradition of a division of labour, collaboration and partnership among public, private and third sector activity, but the terms on which they act are increasingly set by the circumstances due to EU internal market regulations. And these have to be reflected in legislation.

Renewal of service structure creates new reform needs 

The reform of local government and services has brought about a different division of labour and collaboration between different players.

Municipalities have undergone a thorough overhaul in their organization, and this has had ramifications for the arrangement of social and health care.

Many municipalities have carried out a radical change to their division of labour and collaborative relations in accordance with cradle to grave needs. The demand-supply model is bringing the market and competition into the internal running of municipalities.

"The viewpoint of those needing services must be clear within the service structure, which must safeguard the seamless service chain for the care and welfare needs of each resident," Väärälä explains.

"There has to be someone responsible for overall client services and the referral of clients from one service to another must be stopped. Basic and special social welfare services must offer clients the chance to have a flexible mix of services."

Local government and service reform also pose new problems for social welfare. There has to be collaboration with other authorities. For clients to cope with often-complicated situations in life, there has to be a close interaction between different authorities, such as those dealing with housing and employment.

"The social problems of youth, particularly, tend to be interrelated, and to tackle them requires not just social welfare authorities but joint work by school, youth work, organizational authorities and health authorities," says Väärälä.

Integrated welfare

The current Social Welfare Act came into force at the beginning of 1984. Väärälä says that it expresses fairly well the main tasks and responsibilities for preventing social problems, but that these need to be assessed from the angle of present needs. The new appraisal of the Act requires that the perspective of the comprehensive welfare of the population and early intervention are highlighted in social welfare legislation.

The working group dealing with the reform of the Act intends to focus on basic services and their relationship with special welfare services, and on the relationship with other associated activities, particularly health care. The appraisal will also take in collaboration with other sectors.

In addition to the reform of the Social Welfare Act, there is also a need to revamp the supplementary social welfare legislation passed in the 1980s and 1990s. The Child Welfare Act has already been reworked. Legislation on disability services, people with mental disabilities and day care still need to be updated.

Merja Moilanen
Translated Mark Waller