EU Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion increases awareness of problems and helps tackle causes of povertyThe EU's designation of 2010 as the year for combating poverty and social exclusion is increasing public awareness in Finland about the effects of poverty and the conditions of people living in poverty and social exclusion.
"In global terms there is little poverty in Europe, and in European terms poverty in Finland and the Nordic countries affects a relatively small part of the population. We've nevertheless plenty to do to realize the aims of the EU theme year", says Aune Turpeinen, MSAH Ministerial Counsellor, who chairs the Finnish national task force for the theme year.
Events and conferences are being arranged nationwide to increase awareness about poverty and social exclusion. These are aimed for a broad public. The National Institute for Health and Welfare is in charge of arranging these events and other practical work for the theme year.
Support for the activities comes from both the EU and nationally. But the theme year has faced criticism. Attending conferences and organizing fun and games cannot tackle poverty. Aune Turpeinen agrees that poverty cannot be eliminated by a theme year or by conferences. But such events look at the causes and consequences of poverty and social exclusion, and the various ways they can be tackled. The impacts are only apparent in the long run.Drawing on research
During this year researchers will publicise studies on poverty and social exclusion.
"We've a lot of research data on poverty", says Turpeinen. "We need to be able to apply such data in practice. A new step in this is to make such research known."
During this year, the National Institute for Health and Welfare will analyse and specify who are most affected by poverty and social exclusion. It will examine poverty and social exclusion according to population groups, life situation, income, need for social assistance and the duration of need. For instance, the practice of social assistance shows that in Finland it is single men and families with children, particularly single-parent families, who are poor.
"People permanently on small incomes and who live below the poverty line include those who have fallen ill when young or who have disabilities and whose income is chiefly the national pension. When the guaranteed pension comes into force, it will improve their income", says Turpeinen.
Exclusion from basic and vocational education and training, and from working life, easily results in people existing on low incomes. Children who grow up in families experiencing long-term financial and attendant difficulties may be at risk of exclusion from education and consequently from working life.
"Poverty and low incomes are not the only factors that take people from working life and make them socially excluded. There are many studies of people who cope with social exclusion that reveal how important it is that children are cared about in order for them to cope in life. A lack of care even in good income families increases the risks that children will encounter problems later on."
People living on their own face a greater risk of social exclusion and illness than people in relationships. Those living alone and on small incomes may also be at risk of poverty, because they have to pay all housing and household costs alone.Well-run services make life easier
When people on low incomes fall ill or face other routine problems in managing in life, they are particularly dependent on public services and social benefits. Poor people's lives are already improved by obtaining the services and support they need in time.
"Even without this special theme year, the intention is that the guaranteed access to health care and the handling guarantee for social assistance work in practice. It is very important that there are functional services for people on low incomes or who are at risk of social exclusion", says Turpeinen.
She stresses that eliminating poverty and social exclusion is a matter for society as a whole, and not simply for the social and health authorities. The EU theme year will be used to emphasize that people, together and as individuals, bear a responsibility for tackling poverty and social exclusion.
"People can also by their own actions end poverty or prevent their own impoverishment. For instance, substance abuse exposes people to poverty in many ways, because it can lead to losing one's job, ill-health and family difficulties that affect the next generation."
The inaugural event in Finland of the EU theme year on ending poverty and social exclusion was held in Kemi, 18 February. For more information on the theme year in Finland see www.stopkoyhyys.fi.
Translated Mark Waller