The spring of the parliamentary elections. Due to the winter’s heavy snowfalls, the streets are covered with so much snow that smaller roads are in danger of remaining uncleared. The maintenance of the major roads has been prioritised high to prevent the big legislative packages from being buried under snowdrifts. The people await anxiously to see whether the last train will arrive on time, or if some have to take the bus for the last part of the journey. The traditional chirping and twittering has started already well before spring. Parliamentary candidates, the parties’ communication machinery, non-governmental organisations and active citizens are competing to get their voices heard on social media as well as at the election stalls. They all share one goal: to tell the voters about their vision of a better society. To give them a promise of a better tomorrow.
The future may not look very bright for young people. The disparity in income development between different age groups is alarming: the relative income development of people aged 20–29 years is dozens of percentage points lower than that of other age groups. The median income of people aged 30–39 years has decreased over the last seven years. In an article published by Helsingin Sanomat, the slow income development of 20–29-year-olds is justified by the fact that the group includes a large number of students and that the salary for the jobs available for young people is fairly low.
This is the heart of the problem. The effects of the transformation of work affect the young generation first. Young people can only dream about a permanent job at the start of their careers. This is reflected in wage trends as well. At the same time, cuts made to social security directly influence the disposable income of young people. Students have lost the most in the last two parliamentary terms. Even the starting level of their disposable income was lower than that of many others.
Efforts to compensate for the cuts on students’ social security have included increasing the amount of student loan available. The decision-makers set a goal of each student having at least 1,100 euros to use every month. This goal was reached, but this means that more than half of the income of students consists of borrowed money.
The amount of student loan was increased in 2014 and 2017, which can be seen as an explosive growth in the number of state-guaranteed student loans. The student loan stock has doubled from 2013. The Bank of Finland estimates that the limit of four (4) billion euros may be exceeded in early 2020.
To put things in perspective: the state’s annual budget is 55 billion euros.
Of course, student loan is not just some bad, scary thing. Some students use it for one-off purchases or for better food, while some invest it. But is it fair that some people have to take out a loan just to cover their essential costs, such as food, electricity, insurance or medicine? After paying for their housing, students usually have around 150 euros left over per month to use on other expenses. That’s about five euros a day. And just to remind you: no other population group has to get into debt to secure their necessary livelihood.
How should we approach this problem? Because of the increasing social security, health care and pension costs, the additional expenses in the state budget will be focused almost automatically on older generations – and young people and future generations will have to pay for them.
If we want to make our society fair for young people, care costs can’t be the only topic of the elections (as important as caring for the elderly is). If you feel that young people should not have to pay for the government’s debt, I can give you a tip: don’t cut on education, as it will really harm the future generations. Or actually, it already has.
That is why I ask you, dear parliamentary candidate: please think about how you could improve the position of young people. Say it out loud before the elections, and act according to your goal – make sure that the consumer protection of your voters stays intact.
SYL’s Social Policy Adviser