The maternity package - just one of Finland's many social innovations
Finland was still some 60 to 70 years ago a post-conflict developing country. At that time the country's income per capita was at the level of current lower middle income countries. However, the rapid industrialization and structural change created an upward economic spiral.
One central element in turning the economic growth into the well-being of people was the emphasis on equality: policies providing access to education for all, access to health care for all, basic pensions for all, libraries for all – simply, a society for all.
Today people in Finland enjoy relatively high levels of income and access to quality services at quite equal basis. One can say that this universal system has had a high rate of return.
So what kind of social innovations are behind Finland’s story?
First of all, we have to begin by highlighting gender equality. Finland was the first country in Europe where both men and women of all social classes were granted the right to vote and stand for election. Nowadays it is a general practice to take gender perspective into consideration in all decision-making, at all levels and stages.
Reconciliation of work and family life
Another important element is the family model which in Finland, as well as in all the Nordic countries, is characterized by both parents’ responsibility to provide for the family and to participate in childcare. One of the main topics in this area is the reconciliation of work and family life for both parents. The measures include for example a well-run low-cost day-care system, afternoon care for young schoolchildren and family leave arrangements.
Maternity leave following the birth of a child has been part of Nordic legislation for over 50 years. Today, the length of maternity leave is approximately four months and that of paternity leave nine weeks. The logic behind paternal leave is to bolster the father-child relationship and to ease the workload of the mother who has just given birth.
Parental leave is over six months and can be divided between both parents. This is again connected to gender equality and the shared care responsibility. The most explicit and very effective gender equality measure is the father’s quota meaning that part of the parental leave is reserved exclusively for the father and cannot be used by the mother.
Investments in maternal and child health
The second example relates to health and in particular maternal, women and child health. Already at the beginning stages of Finland’s independence it was decided to make investments to improve the status of women and maternal and child care by introducing the maternity and child health clinics. Now, almost a hundred years later, those investments are still producing profit: Finland is among the countries with the lowest maternity and infant mortality rates. Services are universally available and very well attended. Today, clinics also provide family support to both parents, with attention to relationships and parenting.
Another important early instrument that has improved children’s health and also helped families is the free school meal for all pupils. Parents can rest assure that their children can enjoy a nutritious and warm meal during their school day.
In schools, children learn about sexual and reproductive health and rights as part of the national school curricula and health education. Children also have regular health examinations. Last year the HPV vaccine was included in the national vaccination programme. The vaccine will be offered voluntarily and free of charge at schools to all girls aged 11-12 years.
The unique maternity package
Last but not least on this list of innovations is the maternity grant that is available for all mothers who are residents in Finland. The grant is given either in cash or in the form of Finland's unique maternity package.
Mothers can choose between the package or cash but since the very beginning the package has been hugely popular. The maternity package has for several decades been the only one of its kind in the world. It contains carefully chosen items and the most popular ones have been the bodysuits, coveralls and sleeping bag. The box itself can also be used as a temporary crib. The maternity grant, cash or the package, is a conditional benefit meaning that it is granted only if the mother follows a prescribed schedule of visits to maternity clinics. This has also been an effective way in bringing down the numbers of infant mortality.
Usually the word innovation is linked to new material or commercial objects and technologies but innovations can also be social in nature. Social innovations boost peoples wellbeing, health and standard of living and can help in reducing inequalities. Now as the global community has agreed on new sustainable development goals and are looking into the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, new social innovations and thinking is truly needed. Finland is happy to work with the global community, share our best examples and learn also from others.
Futher information: Permanent Secretary Päivi Sillanaukee, p. +358 2951 63356