Categories
finland

Crime in Finland, just how safe is the happiest country in the world?

True story. In 2011, a newspaper in Finland reported on an alleged shoplifter, who was accused of eating part of a pickle without paying for it. He had put the rest of the pickle back. Needless to say the store was forced to dispose of the contaminated pickles.

Another true story. Around 2010, a man sprinted across a snowy Hakaniemi Square carrying a jacket that he’d shoplifted from a nearby store. A security guard pursued. He grabbed the man’s leg and brought him down on the icy sidewalk at the corner of Hakaniemen ranta and John Stenbergin ranta.“Stop or I’ll use spray,” he said in halting English as they wrestled. Threatened by the pepper spray, the shoplifter gave up and was compliantly escorted back to the store.

Finland crime

Crime in Finland is rare and low scale. The past few weeks offer a slight variation on this story though. On 9 September, police raided an apartment in the Jätkäsaari neighborhood, searching for a man who had robbed a nearby convenience store the day before, apparently with a gun. Police thanked citizens for helping to identify the man, who was arrested.

Police prepare to detain a criminal in Jätkäsaari, Helsinki.

Meanwhile, on 5 September, police shot a man in the city of Tampere who was threatening residents with two handguns. On 25 August, two police officers were shot and injured in Porvoo. Two suspects were apprehended following a high speed chase and have appeared in court. On 23 July, a shooting occurred at the intersection of Hietalahdenkatu and Porkkalankatu in central Helsinki.

All of the above are exceptional events. Crime in Finland is low. Some concern exists that in the coming years (and, yes, years, not next year or the year after), a significant increase in violent crime will occur, similar to what has been experienced in some areas of Sweden.

It’s too soon to know, though it’s highly possible that this occurs. In terms of public perceptions, many citizens will probably believe that crime is increasing amid a greater level of reporting and information dissemination. If you live in Finland and read the police Twitter account and Iltalehti instead of Helsingin Sanomat, you’ll probably feel nervous about the direction of society.

Now that we’ve mildly disparaged Iltalehti readers (among which SuloNorth is counted) let’s look at some data, namely Q1 and Q2 criminal offenses from 2015 to 2019

Crime in numbers

In terms of overall numbers, Finland appears to be even safer so far in 2019 (based on preliminary data), with a fall in total recorded offenses.

  • 398,630 (2015)
  • 396,331 (2016)
  • 427,594 (2017)
  • 424,219 (2018)
  • 326,543 (2019)

Of course, our question is what caused the rise in total offenses in 2017 and 2018? Will adjusted data for 2019 be dramatically different from what’s been published now?

We would like to be hitting refresh on the official statistics page and download the finalized data. But we’re not. Even for a country of only 5.5 million people, crime in Finland is remarkably low. Less than 2,000 residences were broken into during January to June 2019. Numbers of robberies have stayed about the same between January to June 2015 to 2019 at approximately 800.  

Narcotics offenses are up though, with 14,250 in 2019 compared to 11,749 in 2015. Sexual crimes have also increased include the sexual abuse of a child (from 629 in 2015 to 813 in 2019) and rape (from 481 in 2015 to 715 in 2019). Part of this increase is due to more reporting of these types of incidents, which is positive, but the overall rise is concerning. 

January to June 2019 also saw a notable rise in murders, rising to 41 from 34 in 2018. In 2015, the number was 46.

Keep it all in perspective. Finland’s Interior Ministry says that bicycles are the most common stolen object in Finland.

Categories
finland

Ultimate Guide to Finnish Music – Back to Work Edition

Our ultimate guide to Finnish music arrives as the summer season wraps up and the end of year work frenzy begins.

In Finland, most companies were fully up and running again by mid-August. Employees will want some new tunes to deminish the pain of losing that refreshed post-vacation feeling.  

What do Finnish people listen to while at work you may wonder?

What is the soundtrack that keeps Finns the happiest people in the world despite the daily toil for Euros? (Note that only 10% of Finns usually work more than 40 hours per week – that’s just plain smart).

The answer is…probably pretty much the same type of music that you listen to. Maybe there’s a little more metal in the mix.  

Here’s SuloNorth’s 10-song ultimate guide to Finnish music (back to work edition). Listen to the Spotify playlist or one by one below. 

1. Hard Rock Hallelujah, Lordi

2. Matkustaja, Egotrippi

3. Sandstorm, Darude

4. Missä muruseni on, Jenni Vartiainen

5. Texas, Haloo Helsinki

6. Ikävä, Chisu

7. Wings of A Butterfly, HIM

8. Pohjoiskarjala, Leevi and the Leavings

9. Kulkuri Ja Joutsen, Tapio Rautavaara

10. Palasina, Vilma Alina

Categories
finland Politics

Hold onto your horses, Putin is coming!

Photo: A woman at the Russian Orthodox Pokrovskaia Association in Helsinki, Finland.

Stop the traffic. Stop the music. Stop whatever you are doing. Putin is coming to town!

The big man of Russia will be in Finland on August 21 to meet with President Sauli Niinistö.

The two have a tight relationship, and Putin visits Finland annually. 

Niinistö last met with Putin in April at the International Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg. Putin expressed that relations between Russia and Finland are developing in a good direction. Thanks for the love, Vlad!

The meeting next week takes place at the Finnish president’s summer residence in Naantali and comes at a time when relations between Russia and the West are, frankly, in a dreadful state. Niinistö has sought to reassure the Finnish media by saying that no conversations topic will be taboo. However, he refused to disclose the talking points.

We expect Niinistö to continue acting as a bridge between Moscow and Western countries and to carefully tend to what is an uneasy, but important partnership. Many Finnish companies want the sanctions currently imposed on Moscow to be lifted and for Russia to return to buying a wider assortment of products from Finland . Don’t forget, Russia remains an important market and is located right on Finland’s eastern border. Even notoriously quiet Finns talk to their neighbours.

An abusive relationship?

A digression to dig a little deeper into Russian-Finnish relations…

Innocent and inexperienced small town girl meets mysterious, unattainable bad boy. It is an old story that rarely has a happy ending.

Falling in love with such a character can bring your exhilarating excitement. Yet one day you wake up and realise that you are in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic lunatic and there are very few ways out.

Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit (just a bit) by seeming to compare such a dynamic to the Russia-Finland relationship. Yet, like that unattainable new love interest, Russia remains a mystery to Finland, and just about everyone else.

That doesn’t stop Finns from pursuing it of course….there are all those people, all that land, so many resources…

 Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev famous poem says it all: 

”You cannot grasp Russia with your mind 

Or judge her by any common measure, 

Russia is one of a special kind –

You can only believe in her. ”

Another Cold War?

Yes, Russia is Finland’s main longterm external security threat.

In March, the Finnish Defence Ministry released a critical report of Russia entitled “Voiman Venäjä” (eng. Russia of Power). The report was a continuation of two previous reports “Haasteiden Venäjä” (Russia of Challenges, 2008) and Muutosten Venäjä (Russia of Changes, 2012).

“Voiman Venäjä” paints a grim picture of Russia-Finland relations and even mentions being on the edge of another Cold War. An unstable Russia could have a huge impact on Finland’s security. Meanwhile, the increased Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea makes Finland nervous. Russia sees Finland as part of its larger geopolitical goals, according to the report. For example, the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church (not to be confused to Finnish Orthodox Church that is part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople) is controversial in Finland as it is seen as part of Moscow’s soft power strategy.

Helsinki views Russia as unpredictable and wishes to convey itself as a reliable partner, one who can talk it out, no matter the issues, without physical altercation, according to the report.  

For its part, Russia has criticised Finland’s closer defence co-operation with Sweden and the fact that Finland has taken part in NATO exercises. 

Friends, until we’re not

Hostility is unlikely to be seen during the meeting between Niinistö and Putin next week.

In official meetings Russia has always highlighted its good relations with Finland. This is despite occasional not so subtle hints about the horrible consequences should Finland do something disagreeable (such as making plans to join NATO).

In other news, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif will also meet with Niinistö next week, on August 19.

So it will be a busy week for Finnish foreign policy. 

Categories
education finland Politics

Work to Study, or Study to Work?

Photo: Student housing in Helsinki.

University students in Finland are demanding more money. In 2017, financial aid was cut to EUR250.28 per month. Today, students are demanding a EUR100 increase in financial aid from the new government that would bring their support to around EUR350 monthly.

Unfortunately for students a rise in financial aid seems doubtful. Earlier this month Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green League) stated on Yle’s 8 minuuttia programme that a hike is unlikely, though that had been one of her party’s main campaign promises during the election earlier this year. The new government has agreed, however, to link the amount of aid to the cost of living. Also more affordable houses and living have been promised to students.

Keeping students happy in a country that faces an aging population may be important, but increasing financial aid would be difficult given an already optimistic government budget.

GoNorth! Outlook
Finnish university students will have to keep up the pressure for the
long-term (we mean years) to see their financial aid increased.
The current government is unlikely to agree to a direct increase in
support …sorry students…

Why might Finnish students turn down work?

This year, Finland’s student financial aid program hits the graceful age of 50. University students don’t pay for education in Finland and receive government financial aid to support themselves. The idea is that young people are enabled to focus on their studies and not have to worry about working at the same time. Therefore, they should be able to graduate faster and become tax payers, which is what Finland needs, especially given the demographic challenges mentioned above.

Here’s the catch: accepting financial aid substantially limits how much a student can earn by working. Yet few companies will hire a graduate with little work experience. Currently, if you study nine months out of the year, and you take out financial aid during those months, you can earn up to EUR11,973 annually.

Summertime blues

The income limit was set because the Finnish state didn’t want wealthy students who were able to independently support themselves also receiving financial aid.

It’s not exactly easy to survive in expensive Finland with only financial aid, especially if you want to enjoy your university years, which every sane person does. What’s tough is that even if students don’t get financial aid for the three summer months (unless they study full-time during the summer), the income they earn from a job during this time is calculated into the whole year’s earnings. A student who succeeds in getting a well-paying summer job and continues part-time work during study time can quite easily go over the earnings limit.

For example, if you make EUR6,000 between June-August, you’ll only be able to earn EUR5,973 the rest of the year. This would mean EUR664 per month. This limit is quite low especially if you, like many students do, work on weekends or nights and earn extra for unusual working hours. For example Sunday work pays double the usual salary.

Tax the students

A January 2019 study from the Labour Institute of Economic Research recommended that the earnings limit be increased to about EUR18,000 per year for students who study nine months out of the year. This would have a positive impact on students’ well-being and increase the government’s net income tax revenue by EUR5.9 million annually, the report found.

At present, the risks of earning too much are real for students. Finland is the only Nordic country that requires students who earn over the limit to pay back the financial aid they received that year in full. That’s right. Go over the limit. Pay it all back.

In comparison, in Finland’s Nordic neighbor Norway, students who earn more than they are allowed only have to pay a greater amount of tax. In Denmark, only the amount earned that’s over the limit for students receiving financial aid has to be paid back.

Finnish social service agency KELA says about one in ten Finnish students ends up exceeding the earnings limit. In fact, the latest statistics show that the number of students who earn too much while receiving financial aid has increased. In 2019, KELA requested 40,000 students to repay financial aid from 2017. This was an increase from 34,800 in 2018 (a payback request from support given in 2016).

Cuts and Loans

Student financial aid without housing support is currently EUR250.28 a month. It used to be EUR336.76* before the previous government (2015-2019) brought it to the cutting board in 2017. Chop.

That government, led by Juha Sipilä of Centre Party (Suomen Keskusta), increased the amount of affordable government backed loans offered to students instead. Now students can take out loans of up to EUR650 per month. On top of that a student can get an up to EUR400 per month housing allowance, depending on how high their rent is and if they live alone or not.

This lower financial aid was put to place in August 2017 and already now it has increased the amount of debt that students take on. According to the Bank of Finland students took out EUR15 million more in loans in January 2019 than they did in the same month a year ago. In total, the amount of loans given to students in January 2019 was EUR285 million. The median interest rate on these loans was 0.48%, according to Bank of Finland data. This is a very low interest rate and some students even use the loan or part of it to invest in different assets. As of August 2014, if a student takes out a loan, 40% of the amount borrowed above EUR2,500 can be ‘forgiven’ (up to EUR6,200) if they complete studies within the amount of time Kela estimates it should take them, becoming an educated, full-time tax payer on schedule.

*For students at university and college level. Lower level students were already receiving only EUR250.28 per month before August 2017.

Categories
finland health

Healthcare in Finland – A Personal View

Finland’s healthcare has a pretty good reputation globally. Medical journal Lancet’s study The Global Burden of Disease ranked the country’s healthcare among the best in the world in 2018. Still there is always room for improvement.

Local health centres vs big hospitals

In fact, Finland’s new government aims to reshape the country’s health sector. According to the government, the Northern European country’s weakest link when it comes to healthcare is primary care at local health centres which are often underfunded compared to big hospitals and don’t attract the best medical talent.

Currently, for non-urgent care, these health centres are by law required to give an appointment within three months. The new government plans to decrease the waiting time to only seven days. The government’s programme reads: “The maximum waiting times for access to primary healthcare will be shortened so that access to non-emergency care must be arranged within a week (7 days) of the assessment of need for care.” This is yet another ambitious goal that the new government has on their agenda. You can read more about their other ambitious goals on our previous blog post.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare has estimated that bringing down the maximum appointment waiting times in Finland would require 1,600–2 ,600 more health centre doctors. The government is hoping that 1,000 will be adequate enough and estimates the cost for this to be €50 million. Apparently 1,000 new GPs will suffice since the newly improved health centres will be better managed and use more digitalisation (will going digital be the answer to every problem?). In the government’s own words, they plan to create “multidisciplinary health and social services centres that harness the possibilities of digitalisation and modernise division of work to make better use of different professionals’ skills and of specialist consultations.”

Counties to receive more funding

Another big step the government is going to make in terms of the health sector is the health and social service reform that seems quite similar to the one that the previous government had set the groundwork for. This means that the responsibility for health services will be moved from municipalities to 18 autonomous counties. The counties will be run by elected councillors and there will be five collaboration areas for specialist healthcare between the counties. Citizens are free to choose which county’s healthcare they want to use. The public sector will dominate in providing the care but private healthcare will also be used when needed.

“The counties will receive most of their funding from the central government. We will reform the system for financing health and social services so that it is structured on needs based criteria” the government programme reads.

Making an appointment

I have experience with healthcare in five different countries and I have given birth in both Finland and UK. My experiences with Finnish public healthcare has been mostly positive. Having two small children I usually have gotten care pretty fast and haven’t had to queue for long. The longest I ever had to queue when visiting a health centre without an appointment was for about an hour and 30 minutes. But usually I have only had to wait for about 15 minutes.

In Helsinki, if you need to visit the doctor on a weekday you ring a callback service for your local health centre to make an appointment. The nurse will call you back the same day usually within two hours and assess the urgency of the situation. Is he/she thinks you should be seen the same day they will first try to make an appointment for an exact time. If all appointment times are taken then you will have to go to the health centre for a walk-in appointment which requires some waiting, depending on how many people are there on that particular day. It works on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I usually ask the nurse on the phone to tell me what the walk-in situation is so I can estimate if it is worth it to go and wait or if I can hold off and make an appointment for next day.

If you are lucky you might only have to wait for 5 minutes for your walk-in appointment, but some days it can be closer to two hours. This is how it works on a regular week day, on weekend you would have to go to your closest hospital’s emergency care unit.

These appointments at the health centre and the hospital have always been completely free*. However, prescription medicines are not free. They are subsidised by Kela but you still pay some out of pocket. What also costs money is giving birth which I will go into in the next segment of the article.

Giving Birth in Finland – the cost

I have given birth in Finland and in the UK. Both times I received high quality care but at what cost?

In Finland, giving birth in a public hospital is not completely free. This came as a surprise to me since I had never had to pay for any public health services in Finland before this. The cost varies depending on how long you have to stay in the hospital. I stayed only one night and the total cost came to €130.50. On top of the care this included meals, diapers, formula milk and hospital clothes for me and the baby.

Meal time at Helsinki’s Naistenklinikka Hospital

In the UK I stayed at the hospital for five days and the total cost of labour was €0. You read that right. In the UK giving birth at a public hospital is completely free. This also included meals. However, you were supposed to provide the diapers, formula milk, clothes for baby and yourself.

Meal time at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK

If I had stayed five day in the public hospital in Helsinki it would have cost €244.5. The daily fee for the hospital stay is €48.90 in Finland. The fee is double if your spouse stays with you but he/she will also get meals and a bed included in that fee. The maximum you would ever have to pay is €683 even if you have to stay in the hospital for a longer time due to serious complications. My fee came down to €130.51 because I also had to bring the baby for an additional check-up due to my early release. The check-up cost was €32.70.

The bottom-line on giving birth (in Finland)

The bottom-line is that giving birth in Finland and UK is not going to make much of a dent in your wallet. Another story is all those American parents. On average giving birth is US costs about €8,900. Parents who are blessed enough to have insurance are usually left with a bill of about €2,700 for vaginal birth. This doesn’t include pre- or post-natal care.

How about safety then? UNICEF’s report on infant mortality rates published in 2018 ranked Finland as the fourth safest place to give birth globally. According to the report Finland’s newborn mortality rate is 1.2, the UK’s stands at 2.5 and in the US the rate is 3.7.

*Free means that these services are paid with tax income and no private insurance is needed to receive care.

Categories
finland health

Finland: Happiest Country in the World, or not?

Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world for the past two years. Yet how many jovial Finns have you met? Let me explain what happiness means in Finland…

World Happiness Report

First of all, can happiness be measured? Yes, if you ask the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. According to their annual Happiness Report: “…the quality of people’s lives can be coherently, reliably, and validly assessed by a variety of subjective well-being measures, collectively referred to then and in subsequent reports as ‘happiness’.” The report takes into consideration these key aspects of life: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

Top 10 happiest countries, according to the report:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Canada
  10. Austria

What is happiness?

If happiness can be calculated then we need to define what equals happiness. Finland seems to have discovered the formula.

Yet, Finland’s ranking surprised many, especially Finns themselves. After the release of the report many Finns expressed disbelief on social media. Finland, after all, is a country known for its melancholia and lack of small talk. Also, the PR sets a rather high standard. What if Finland doesn’t live up to the hype?

Happiness in Finland is not what one might think. It doesn’t mean you walk smiling like somebody just cracked a super joke. In Finland you don’t need to feel great all the time to consider yourself content. In fact, Finland has high levels of depression, which is the number one cause of early retirement in the country according to a recent study done by the Finnish Centre For Pensions. The country also has relatively high rates of suicide.

So what is happiness? In Finland, it means not necessarily feeling very joyful all the time. Instead, it means feeling OK and that even if life gets tough you’ll stay OK. And that is the key.

No Worry, No Cry

Happiness is not about feeling extreme highs all the time. Of course, you also don’t want to feel extreme lows all the time. Happiness is about having your emotions somewhere in the centre most of the time. To attain this, Finns rely on a safety net provided by the state. Finns know that that the state is where they can get help if it all becomes less bearable.

In Finland, happiness means that when you lose your job the state gives you a decent unemployment income that gets you through the temporary rough period. Happiness in Finland is when you injure yourself you can go to a hospital and get high quality care without worrying about breaking the bank. Happiness in Finland is that when you find out you are expecting a child you don’t have to start calculating pennies to make sure you can afford it.

Simply put: Happiness in Finland is not having to worry when, pardon my french, shit hits the fan. A future post will get into the ‘nanny state’, though that type of mentality is, sensibly, not widely expressed in Finland.

Everyone wants to be happy. But let me suggest we stop calling Finns happy altogether. A better word to describe them would be to say they are carefree. On a happiness scale of 1-10, most Finns stand in the middle.

Categories
education finland

You Need Education, Like It Or Not

The Finnish government elected in April 2019 is surely not dancing to the tune of “I don’t Need No Education” by legendary band Pink Floyd. On the contrary, the government has decided to increase mandatory education by three years. This “forces” all Finns to attend upper secondary education.

Tough choice

Allow us to continue with cliches: The Youth is our future. Nobody can argue against that. Compelling all citizens to have this additional education is an investment on Finland’s future. Yet this decision was reached only after some debate in late May as the Collation Party (Kokoomus) was initially reluctant, stating that the costs were too high compared to potential benefits.

It will be hard to say if the level of unemployment among young people will go down thanks to this new change in the education system. Many education experts in Finland see this as an unlikely scenario and none of the leaders of the largest vocational schools in the country support making the mandatory education longer, according to Yle survey. This could have something to do with the fact that the vocational school funding has been directly connected to how many students finish the school since 2018. Making the upper secondary schools mandatory for all kids will most likely increase the level of drop-outs, hence lowering the funding for these schools.

Finland’s Pity 5s

Already today, kids are pushed out of the mandatory primary school with “pity 5s” (the lowest passing grade in Finnish school), rather than making them repeat grades. These kids are the ones with little or no motivation for traditional schooling. The idea is that if you make them repeat a grade their motivational level becomes even lower, but this way of thinking often backfires. If there is no threat of failing many of the kids quit altogether. Teachers have to chase after them at the end of each semester to make sure that they have done all their exams. In the end, they get to use a book so that they get a passing “pity 5”.

Are these type of kids going to be motivated by extra mandatory education? Seems unlikely. On the contrary, they now have to attend the upper secondary levels without the necessary skills and are likely to drop out later and possibly become even more discouraged.

An alternative solution?

The best way to get these kids motivated would be to help them find their own interests. Providing a more customizable educational experience for kids that just don’t do well in traditional school would be beneficial. A system where they can discover different skills and find their true passions.

Of course, this approach also requires extra investment. However, rather than ‘wasting’ money making kids that don’t do well in school stay in school, this could provide higher returns of investment by connecting to students to their natural inclinations and allowing them to develop skills around those.

Upshot

The good thing about the change in the education system is that it does make it completely free to attend upper secondary schools. It used to be that kids would attend the school for free but they would have to buy the books and supplies themselves. This could add up to hundreds of euros annually and put a strain on lower income families who were already scraping by to begin with.

Categories
finland Politics tax

New Government Jumps Finland ahead of the Environmental Game | Drink Alcohol and be Taxed More!

Finland’s newly formed government has announced its agenda, highlighting environmental issues, job generation and social equality. The new programme aims to make Finland carbon-neutral by 2035. This goal makes Finland a top country in Europe in regards to aspirations for decreasing its environmental impact.

The programme makes massive promises and has left many wondering wether it is too ambitious. The EUR1.2 billion needed to implement all the “improvements” has to come from somewhere. To increase revenue the government, lead by Prime Minister Antti Rinne (SDP), aims to increase taxes by EUR750 million.

Sinners Be Damned

Some of that EUR750 million in additional tax revenue will come from a so-called ‘sin tax’ which includes tax hikes on tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks.

Yle News calculated that alcohol tax would mean that those winenistas consuming a bottle of wine per week would see their spending increase by about EUR10.92 per year. This could potentially increase ‘booze rallies’ to Estonia, which recently decided to lower its alcohol tax by 25% in order to increase foreigners’ alcohol spending in Estonia. Even before the alcohol tax hike, booze in Finland is substantially more expensive compared to Estonia. For example one bottle of Australian Yellow Tail Shiraz costs €10.54 in Alko and just €2.60 in Liviko store in Estonia.

Despite booze being substantially cheaper in Estonia even before the tax reduction, which will be implemented on July 1, 2019, Tallinn is concerned over revenue losses from alcohol sales to Finnish travelers. Just two years ago Estonia hiked its alcohol tax by 70%, which made many residents of Finland travel further south to Latvia for cheap booze.

“[Following the tax increase] Estonia lost a third of their alcohol tax revenue last year, mainly to Latvia.” Managing director of the Finnish Grocery Trade Association (PTY), Kari Luoto, said to Yle News.

Estonia’s new tax reduction might have a limited impact though since Latvia may follow suit, according to Bloomberg.

The Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) calculated that Finnish travellers imported the equivalent of 7.1 million litres of pure alcohol in 2018. In 2017 this figure was 6.9 million litres. It is yet to be seen if Estonia’s tax reduction and Finland’s tax hike will increase the level of imported alcohol in 2019.