From Universalisms to Universalism or Vice Versa? Finnish Social Assistance Reform and the Equality of Citizens

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:30
Oral Presentation
Paula SAIKKONEN, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Finland
Minna YLIKÄNNÖ, Social Insurance Institution of Finland, Finland
Nordic welfare states are characterized by strong emphasis on universalism with an idea of equality promotion as a character of the welfare systems. Universal social policies are found to be more effective than selective ones in creating equality and social trust among citizens, i.e. building social citizenship. Departing from the idea of British universalism that focuses mostly on the benefit system, the Scandinavian idea extends universalism to the policy outcomes by emphasizing the role of public services in diminishing poverty and increasing equality i.e. financial aid is not always enough to enable participation in the society. At the beginning of 2017, the social assistance was centralized to the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, which is against the current decentralization trend in Europe. In spite of the fact that the connection between social work and financial aid was disconnected, the reform was largely justified by the claim that it increases equality.

The paper scrutinizes which client groups were excluded and which advantaged and in what way, when the reform was implemented. Further, it asks how the reform revised universalism and an idea of social citizenship behind it.

The research material consists of data based on surveys targeted to municipal social workers, the management of municipal social services, social assistance receivers and the benefit handlers in the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.

Based on our empirical findings, people with cumulated social problems and need for social services are in more risk of exclusion than before the reform. There seems to be shift from “universalisms” to “universalism” in the Finnish welfare system. The reform has led to the increasing exclusion of the most vulnerable groups and increasing inequality among all clients. In the long term, this will erode social cohesion in the society.