Estimated reading time 5 min

Sitra forum maps out the basis for a successful ageing society

The Voimaa forum in Helsinki considered plans to help keep Finland's growing senior population active, productive and happy...


As Sitra’s Antti Kivelä explains: “The basis for a thriving ageing population in Finland has its roots in the history of previous generations. Living in our midst is a group of skilled elder citizens whose like we have never seen before. Retirees no longer agree to be put out to pasture in passive expectation of a contented retirement or death, but want to continue as active members of society. This represents an opportunity for Finland.”

Kivelä would give the aged greater decision-making power through the adoption of a negative domestic help credit, personal budgets and by providing tax incentives to engage in voluntary work. He also promises that Sitra will engage in practical trials of the best ideas submitted by citizens on how to solve the problems arising from an ageing population.

“By 2030 Finland will already have 1.5 million people over the age of 65. This will make raising the employment rate among the over-60s important to Finland’s overall national employment levels. The aged are a resource of major potential for Finland, particularly when we wonder how to overcome the challenges facing our public economy.” So declared State Secretary Martti Hetemäki at the opening of the Voimaa Forum, organised by Sitra, which brought over 260 experts, decision-makers and pensioners to Finlandia Hall. The purpose of the event was to seek means and operating models by which the well-being of the ageing population can be improved while reducing the associated pressures on services, the labour force and funding.

Sitra proposed that services for the aged be improved through income-related personal budgets, by extending the scope of service voucher legislation to cover public service providers and via the introduction of a negative domestic help credit.

“Domestic help credit entitlement is currently tilted towards the better off,” says Antti Kivelä. “There is no reason why the focus could not be shifted towards pensioners and their nursing and care services, while extending the credit to cover those on low incomes. From the perspective of the public finances, there are many ways in which this could be organised cost-neutrally.”

By “personal budget”, Sitra means a model which allows the client to choose his or her preferred service providers and services. Granting the right to a personal budget would be based on a needs assessment and a care and service plan drawn up by the social and healthcare authorities. The client’s assistance requirement would be converted into a budget, i.e. a cash sum granted to the senior citizen for the purchase of care, nursing and assistive devices.

Sitra speculates that income-based personal budgets could be initially implemented under experimental legislation. Trials in various local authority areas would provide experiences and good practices which would assist in the drawing up of permanent legislation.

Permanent Secretary Päivi Sillanaukee of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is in favour of such trials. “A welfare society built to serve the needs of three co-existing generations can no longer function properly when it has to serve four or five. We need a rethink on a range of issues. Now is the time to dare to experiment, renew and have faith that we can do good, or do even better, by doing things differently.”

Jukka-Pekka Ujula, the Mayor of Porvoo and a participant in the panel discussion, also wants to see new ways emerge of organising services for senior citizens. “New service delivery options and innovations are now an absolute requirement among the municipalities, which are ready to experiment together with clients, the state and third sector, not forgetting the private sector.”

Another suggestion for activating and improving the lives of the senior population involves taxation changes that offer incentives to older people to work and engage in voluntary activities. This could be done through preferential tax treatment of pensioners who work. Meanwhile, pensioners engaging in voluntary work could be supported through various forms of cost reimbursement.

“If and when we want to support older people engaging in voluntary work, would it be sensible to compensate them for the associated costs through tax-free lunch, commuting or culture services vouchers?” suggests Antti Kivelä.

Tuula Haatainen, Deputy Managing Director of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, addressed the organisations attending the forum, and outlined her wish for incentives for voluntary work. “Growth in inequality between the aged is a major concern. Incentives are needed to get people involved in voluntary work and third sector activities, for example sports associations could take pensioners on outings, in return for a small contribution towards their junior activities.”

Last year, Sitra launched its umbrella project, An active citizen – at all ages, with the aim of enhancing opportunities for the aged to have a say as experts on their own services, to introduce new practices giving them greater decision-making powers and to enable pensioners to work and engage in voluntary activities. Key partners in this two-year project include Eläkeläisliittojen etujärjestö EETU ry (the Finnish Association of Retired Persons) and the cities of Turku and Tampere.

What's this about?