The Finnish Government must wake up to the importance of family and population policy and re-consider the cost-cutting measures directed at families with children, states Sari Essayah, the chairperson of the Christian Democratic Party.
Statistics Finland, she highlights, announced earlier this week that the number of births dropped to a record low of 26,517 in the first half of the year in the 99-year history of independent Finland.
Essayah interprets the data as an indication of a baby shortage.
“Statistics Finland's message is quite stupefying. The birth rate has declined for as many as five consecutive years: people are less eager to have children and postpone starting a family. Finland was a country with one of the highest birth rates in Europe at the turn of the millennium, but that is no longer the case,” she writes in a blog post.
The statistical institution reported on Tuesday that despite the record-low number of births, the population grew by 6,269 to 5,493,577 between January and June – primarily as a result of immigration.
“The number of immigrants was 7,022 higher than that of emigrants. […] The number of births was 753 lower than that of deaths,” it wrote.
Matti Saari, a senior statistician at Statistics Finland, pointed out in an interview with YLE that decision-makers raised various family benefits after the national birth rate declined for several consecutive years in the 1970s. “It remains to be seen how decision-makers react to the [current] decline, as there has yet been hardly any discussion [on the subject],” he told the national broadcasting company on Tuesday.
Essayah hopes that the message will not fall on deaf ears in the Government.
“It is high time to wake up to the importance of family and population policy. The age groups that are born have been too small already for decades. The long-term skewing of the population structure has created a so-called sustainability deficit in our country,” she says.
She estimates that it would be populist to blame only the current regime for the unprecedented birth rate but concedes that the measures introduced to adapt to the economic slowdown have rightly attracted some criticism at a time when investments in children, young people and families are crucial.
“It has thus been a major disappointment that some of the austerity measures have especially hit families with children. The Government has decided to abolish index-based increases in child benefits, is about to sharply raise the costs of daycare services and has doubled the costs of after-school activities,” she lists.
Families with children, she adds, have also been hit by the decisions to cut the tax credits granted for mortgage interests and to raise vehicle tax rates.
Essayah argues that family policy should be at the core of economic policy-making as birth rate is a key factor contributing to the long-term economic outlook of Finland.
“Although an increase in the birth rate reduces the dependency ratio in the short term, it is a necessary remedy for curing both the dependency ratio and sustainability deficit. The Ministry of Finance calculated in 2010 that an increase of 0.5 in the fertility rate would patch up the sustainability deficit by 1.0 percentage points – or, two billion euros – and yet our population structure has continued to become worse,” she writes.
She estimates that the increases in the costs of daycare services and after-school activities, as well as the steeply progressive tax system, are a disincentive to work for parents of young children. “One can only hope that the Government will call off the increases in after-school activity costs, as the new Minister of Finance [Petteri] Orpo (NCP) has tentatively implied,” concludes Essayah.
Esa Iivonen, a senior expert at the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, has similarly stated that family benefits should be raised rather than cut in Finland.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva
Source: Uusi Suomi