Finland aims to start the social security reform during the next parliamentary term. The groundwork for this much-needed reform has been laid for more than a year now with the TOIMI project, among other things. Most political parties have also published some kind of model on what they think social security should be like in the future. Considering Finland’s political system, it is highly unlikely that any party would be able to implement their vision without any changes or compromises, and the end result will most likely be some kind of combination of the models that have been presented now.
The models of the parties differ from each other greatly on how they treat students as a population group. The Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) Yleisturva model includes students, as do the basic income models of the Green League and Left Alliance. The Centre Party has also stated that students could be included in the party’s basic income model in the long term. The thing that I’m most concerned about, however, is that many of the published models don’t take students into account at all.
First of all, I don’t think that we can talk about an overall reform if one major population group – students – is categorically excluded from the reform. Students inhabit the same reality as everyone else, and students also have to pay for rent, bills and food during their studies. Students’ social security currently consists of a study grant and the general housing allowance. Student loan is a good way to supplement one’s income, but no one should have to take out a loan just to cover their essential living costs. After paying the rent, the amount left over from the study grant and housing allowance is not enough to secure full-time studying – which should be the student’s greatest and most important task.
Most people agree on the idea behind the reform: the Finnish social security system no longer meets the needs that it has been created for over the decades. As with any other form of social security, the study grant is very much outdated. Sure, the study grant has been reformed, developed and cut continuously, but these changes have often been made without carefully considering the big picture, emphasising educational policy goals instead of the best possible implementation of students’ social security. As a result, the student financial aid is a fragmented form of social security and inadequate for its purpose.
Student income should be examined as part of the social security reform
This is why student income should be examined as part of the social security reform. The level of support should be sufficient to enable full-time studying without debt, and students’ social security should be flexible enough to allow them to work alongside their studies. Students, like everyone else, should be entitled to adequate social security that enables normal living. The savings targets of the public sector must be lifted from the shoulders of young individuals.
The overall reform of the social security system will be a lengthy process, and it is unlikely that the reform can be implemented in one go. Last year, Juho Saari’s working group on inequality proposed that the first step for the reform would be the merging of minimum daily allowances (such as unemployment allowance and sickness allowance). This proposal has been received positively by people from across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, in the current discussion, these minimum allowances have not included the study grant, which is currently only 250 euros per month – making it a minimum allowance in the true sense of the word. The study grant should definitely be included when thinking about merging minimum allowances and discussing them.
In general, students should be involved in the early stages of the lengthy social security reform, which will start during the next parliamentary term. There are about 300,000 higher education students in Finland whose life situation is significantly different from the rest of the population. By involving students in the preparation of the reform, we can make sure that the reform genuinely serves the entire society in an effective way and that the voice and needs of this very important group of people are heard.
SYL Board Member