Case Studies

Finland – the ‘Economy of Wellbeing’

Tags: Wellbeing Policy Design

Finland and the ‘Economy of Wellbeing’

In July 2019, Finland’s focus in the health and social sector when holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union was the ‘economy of wellbeing’.

Finland’s objectives during the Presidency were:

  • To stimulate an open European debate on the ‘economy of wellbeing’ and improve policy-level understanding of the fact that wellbeing is a prerequisite for economic growth and social and economic stability*; on the other hand, economic growth also creates more opportunities to improve wellbeing in the population.
  • To have the Council of the EU adopt conclusions on the ‘economy of wellbeing’. These include recommendations for measures to be taken by EU member states and the EU Commission.

Following a high-level conference in Helsinki, the Employment, Social Policy, Health, and Consumer Affairs Council adopted the conclusions on the ‘economy of wellbeing’. In its conclusions, the Council acknowledged that the ‘economy of wellbeing’ places people and their wellbeing at the centre of policy and decision-making and works to achieve equal opportunities, gender equality, and social inclusion.

The Council recognised a need for the coordination of EU and Member States’ powers to focus on the key drivers of wellbeing. Highlighting that GDP alone cannot measure the different dimensions of people’s wellbeing, the Council called the EU Member States for a cross-sectoral collaboration to improve existing instruments and implement a horizontal ‘economy of wellbeing’ perspective into national and European policy design.

In addition to its actions during the EU Council Presidency, Finland also demonstrated its focus on wellbeing through its government programme ‘Inclusive and competent Finland – a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society’. The government sought to pursue a preventative approach by investing in measures that improve people’s health and wellbeing and take into consideration the long-term effect of their policies and decisions. Indicators about the economic, social, and ecological wellbeing will be used alongside the current economic indicators.

With the vision to transform Finland into a socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable society by 2030, the government’s key economic policy objectives include:

  • The government’s decisions will decrease inequality and narrow the income gaps.
  • The government’s decisions will put Finland on a path towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2035.
  • The aim of economic policy is to increase wellbeing and prosperity. This means ecologically and socially sustainable economic growth, high levels of employment, sustainable public finances, and stability in the economy, all of which help avoid unforeseen negative impacts on people’s wellbeing.

As the Finnish government stated in their programme, ‘In a Nordic welfare state, the economy is managed for the people, not the other way round’.

* This is a different framing to a Wellbeing Economy, which downplays the economy as a goal in and of itself, and focuses on what sort of economy is needed to deliver the goal of social justice on a healthy planet.

Finland ran Europe’s first national, government-backed basic income experiment. Finland’s two-year scheme, which ran in 2017 and 2018 and attracted widespread international interest, paid 2,000 randomly selected unemployed people across the country a regular monthly income of €560 (£490), with no obligation to seek a job and no reduction in their payment if they accepted one.

Aimed primarily at seeing whether a guaranteed income might encourage people to take up often low-paid or temporary work without fear of losing benefits, the scheme was not strictly speaking a universal basic income trial because the recipients came from a restricted group and the payments were not enough to live on.

Ran Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilot – led to people building startups and staying ‘productive’, instead of passive consumers. So, guaranteeing basic necessities is not about ‘not working’. It frees up time for people to pursue what they care about.

“The basic income recipients were more satisfied with their lives and experienced less mental strain than the control group,” the study, by researchers at Helsinki University, concluded. “They also had a more positive perception of their economic welfare.”

The researchers also noted a mild positive effect on employment, particularly in certain categories, such as families with children, adding that participants also tended to score better on other measures of wellbeing, including greater feelings of autonomy, financial security, and confidence in the future.

“Some people said the basic income had zero effect on their productivity, as there were still no jobs in the area they were trained for,” said Prof Helena Blomberg-Kroll, who led the study. “But others said that with the basic income they were prepared to take low-paying jobs they would otherwise have avoided.

“Some said the basic income allowed them to go back to the life they had before they became unemployed, while others said it gave them the power to say no to low-paid insecure jobs, and thus increased their sense of autonomy.”

The scheme also gave some participants “the possibility to try and live their dreams”, Blomberg-Kroll said. “Freelancers and artists and entrepreneurs had more positive views on the effects of the basic income, which some felt had created opportunities for them to start businesses.”

It also encouraged some participants to get more involved in society, by undertaking voluntary work, for example. “Some found the guaranteed income increased the possibility for them to do things like providing informal care for their family or their neighbours,” said one of the researchers, Christian Kroll.

“The security of the basic income allowed them to do more meaningful things, as they felt it legitimised this kind of care work. Many of the people who performed such unpaid activities during the two-year period referred to it as work.”

Kroll said the results of the study could support arguments both for and against basic income. “But as we’ve all learned in the early part of 2020, insecurity is not a good way to live,” he said.

“While basic income can’t solve all our health and societal problems, there is certainly a discussion to be had that it could be part of the solution in times of economic hardship.”

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