Finland and the homeless

The Nordic nation has put wealthier nations to shame on its social welfare stance

The flag of Finland, Photo by Baptiste Valthier from Pexels

The well known quote from Mahatma Gandhi which goes ‘the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’, is one which will perhaps stand the test of time.

It has arguably never been more relevant than at this point in time. According to the homeless charity Shelter, there were nearly 300,000 people living without a home in the UK.

A nation which has one of the biggest and strongest economies in the world and as recently as 18 months ago there was an estimated one in 200 of our citizens living on the streets.

Other than being hugely concerning, these numbers are evidence of a failing society.

If you measure the UK society using Gandhi’s words, you’d find a society largely devoid of consciousness and compassion. However, elsewhere in Europe, all hope is not lost.

Finland has a population of just over 5.5 million and as well as being nestled under the wondrous icy skies of northern Europe, it has quite a few other things going for it.

One of these is that it’s the only country on the continent where homelessness is in decline.

In the 1980s, Finland had an estimated 18,000 people living on its streets. By 2017 this number was down to under 7,000 and figures suggest this number is continuing to fall.

Research and analysis shows that one of the biggest reasons for this is pretty simple; for the last three decades the Finnish government has given stable homes to rough sleepers as soon as possible.

It might sound too obvious to be true, but it turns out in Finland the government see that their most vulnerable have a stable roof over their heads.

It turns out that this passion to care for everyone in society is ingrained into the Finnish people in an overwhelming admiration for social welfare.

In fact, this whole concept of getting through the toughest of scenarios has a name. And that name is sisu, which represents determination and grit. It is this idea and lifestyle that Finns hold dear.

Coming from a country which has a handful of food banks in every town and city and over a quarter of a million homeless on the streets, the idea of the government proactively making sure people don’t sleep rough is a bit hard to get my head around.

Many on the right side of politics in the UK would probably describe the Finland model as ‘socialist’ in the efforts to condemn this as an evil concept.

If housing the most vulnerable in society, many of whom have fallen foul of a ruthless and cynical government (also a government which still blames the last Labour government for failings despite being in power for 11 years), is evil then I’m not sure how to grasp their idea of good.

Finland may not be the country you think of first when it comes to world power, but where the bigger and richer nations are failing, the European nation is winning at by making a genuine effort to care for some of the most vulnerable in its society.