According to a UNICEF study, comprehensive social security is a crucial tool for protecting children from poverty. "The proposed social security cuts by the current government will have serious consequences for children's well-being," warns Sanna Koskinen, UNICEF Finland's special expert.
Finland ranks only 14th out of 39 countries in UNICEF's Report Card study, which compares child poverty situations in EU and OECD countries.
The study ranks countries using two indicators: Finland is the third-best among the comparison countries when it comes to child poverty rates, meaning the percentage of children living in poor families from 2019 to 2021. In Finland, this percentage was 10.1%. The second indicator measures the change in child family poverty between the periods of 2012-2014 and 2019-2021. Since child family poverty has not decreased in Finland, the country falls to 26th place according to this indicator.
Slovenia, Poland, and Latvia topped the comparison, while the bottom ranks include the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Colombia.
UNICEF's research center, Innocenti, regularly publishes Report Card studies examining the well-being of children in developed industrial countries under changing themes.
"Finland has usually ranked in the top five in these studies and has been seen as a model for child well-being. This year's ranking is exceptionally poor," notes Sanna Koskinen, UNICEF Finland's special expert.
"Policymakers Must Understand That Child Poverty Is a Real Problem"
Finland's poor ranking is due to the fact that child poverty rates in Finland have remained the same since 2012. Among the comparison countries, 17 have successfully reduced child family poverty, with the best countries achieving reductions of over 30 percent.
"Finnish policymakers must understand that child poverty is a real and serious problem. UNICEF's research shows that both poorer and wealthier countries can reduce child family poverty. In Finland, effective measures must finally be taken," says Sanna Koskinen.
UNICEF's research acknowledges that comprehensive social security is a vital tool for protecting children from poverty. In Finland, social security has been especially effective in reducing child family poverty. Without social security benefits, the child poverty rate in Finland would have been nearly 29 percent in 2021, according to the study.
"Based on this, the proposed social security cuts by the current government will have serious consequences for children's well-being," warns Sanna Koskinen.
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also advised Finland in June to avoid cuts to social security benefits that affect children at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
Koskinen reminds that in decision-making concerning children and families, the impacts on children must always be assessed. If multiple decisions affecting children are being made, their combined effects must also be assessed.
"The current proposals for social security cuts have not been subject to a sufficiently comprehensive impact assessment, which is very concerning."
Finland at the Bottom in Single-Parent Family Poverty Risk
UNICEF's study reveals that in Finland, the risk of poverty for children living in single-parent families is the highest among the comparison countries. In Finland, children in single-parent families are over eight times more likely to live in poverty than children in two-parent families.
Taija Liuhto, Chairperson of the Single-Parent Family Association, reminds us that single-parent families make up a quarter of all families in Finland. Recent increases in living costs pose a real risk to both financial survival and well-being, especially for single parents working in low-wage sectors.
"For a single parent, it's unreasonable to have to consider taking on another job on top of a full-time job just to cover the increased costs of rent and reduced housing allowance. In many families, the choice now is between buying food or winter clothes for their child," Liuhto says.
"If a parent has to worry daily about making ends meet, it takes a significant toll on their resources. All of this comes at the expense of the child."
Poverty Endangers a Child's Well-Being and Future
Family poverty has a broad impact on a child's well-being and health, both immediately and in the long term.
In a poor family, a child may suffer from a lack of food. The child may carry deep concerns about the family's well-being, experience bullying, and miss out on extracurricular activities. Research shows that childhood poverty significantly increases the risk of later mental health problems and poor school performance.
"Finland must do better. Every child should have the best possible start in life. We cannot afford to leave any child behind due to poverty," concludes Sanna Koskinen.