Finland's low birth rate is a concern, admits new Minister of Family Affairs

Annika Saarikko (Centre) assumed her new responsibilities as the Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services on Monday, 10 July, 2017.

Annika Saarikko (Centre), the newly appointed Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services, has admitted to being alarmed by the historically low birth rate in Finland.

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Statistics Finland has warned that this year the number of births could fall short of the 50,000 mark for the first time since the famine years of 1866–1868, when the country had a total population of no more than roughly two million.

“I’m keen on looking into what’s the cause of it all,” Saarikko stated in a press conference after her appointment as the Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services in Helsinki on Monday.

She reminded, however, that also the hopes, dreams and conceptions related to families and the number of children have evolved over timein Finland. 

“One of the underlying factors that may be of importance is the general feeling of insecurity. The cost of living in urban centres, uncertainties in the labour markets, people’s understanding of when they’re in a place in life with respect to their career that it’s possible to start a family,” listed Saarikko.

“My foremost concern when it comes to the statistics is that the divide between the desired number children and the actual number of children is at its the widest among low-income families.”

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Saarikko also said she hopes to be able to concentrate not only on the reform of social and health care services but also on other dimensions of family policy in her capacity as the Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services. She revealed, for example, that she is an advocate of bringing all family services under the same roof into what have been tentatively dubbed family centres.

“To me this is about shifting the focus of the political debate and decision-making genuinely toward future Finns, making sure Finland is a genuinely child-friendly country,” she said.

“This focal point is a priority – to establish family centres, with the maternity and child health clinics at their core, under the same roof all over Finland. That’s my first and foremost priority,” added Saarikko.

She also said she intends to maintain discussion about the proposed overhaul of the family leave system, despite the fact that it is not on the government’s agenda due to the resistance of first the Finns Party and later the New Alternative Parliamentary Group.

“My own party believes it would be extremely positive if the reform process was launched before the end of the current electoral term. The ruling parties failed to reach an understanding on the issue, but it won’t stop me from maintaining the discussion. I’m personally supportive of the family leave reform,” she told.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

Photo: Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva

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