In global terms, Helsinki is at a good level in many inequality-related issues when looking at SDG 10, Reduced inequalities. Nevertheless, inequalities and social exclusion are among the most serious problems in Helsinki. They are also persistent and long-term problems, even though many City programmes and objectives have been trying to reduce them for years.
The number of Finns at risk of poverty or social exclusion has increased during the COVID-19 crisis. Health and wellbeing disparities between population groups have also increased, as have regional differences. Homelessness and undocumented status are bigger challenges in Helsinki than in the rest of the country, although in international comparison Helsinki has a low level of homelessness, especially primary homelessness, and Finland has so far been the only country in Europe to reduce homelessness. The challenges of homelessness in Helsinki are exacerbated by the city’s attractiveness as a big city, the high cost of housing, the large number of marginalised people and the inadequacy of temporary accommodation. Helsinki aims to halve homelessness by 2023 and end it altogether by 2025. The City has drawn up an action plan to prevent and reduce homelessness in 2020–2022.
The number of homeless people has decreased compared to the situation in 2019. Homelessness among single Helsinki residents has decreased by 28% and among families and couples by 32%. In January 2023, there were 470 long-term homeless people living in Helsinki. The number of long-term homeless people has also decreased.
The number of undocumented people in Helsinki is difficult to estimate. Undocumented people are a diverse group but, in practice, an undocumented person is someone who resides in Finland without a residence permit. The everyday lives of undocumented and homeless people are marked by constant uncertainty about their future. Homeless and undocumented people are in a vulnerable position and also at high risk of other threats, such as violence and exploitation.
Ethnic segregation in Helsinki is also relatively low by international standards, compared to Stockholm or Copenhagen, for example. However, there has been an increase in segregation over the past 10 years. The proportion of the population of Helsinki accounted for by immigrants and their children born in Finland has increased considerably in the 21st century, while at the same time there have been major changes in the demographic structure of individual areas.
Regional differences in the socio-economic structure of the population are reflected in differences in morbidity and perceived wellbeing. This is reflected in regionally differentiated service needs. There are also significant regional differences in the types of pupils and children in schools and daycare centres. In addition, regional differences are reflected in perceived safety. Studies have shown that the segregation development also has an impact on migration choices and on the segregation of housing prices and school learning outcomes. Migration within the city can intensify the segregation development if people who move house start making their choices based on the characteristics of the areas, favouring certain areas and avoiding others.
Children and young people an important target group in preventing social exclusion and reducing inequalities
The inequality of children and young people is reduced by high-quality teaching and early childhood education. In addition to this, it has been ensured that children and young people can engage in diverse recreational activities during their free time. An example of this is the Finnish model for leisure activities, which Helsinki has implemented very well. Free after-school hobbies are provided at all comprehensive schools in Helsinki. The selection includes more than 30 different recreational activities that children and young people have asked for, and each pupil between grades 3 and 9 can choose one. The inclusion of the Finnish model for leisure activities in the Youth Act established it as a permanent operating model.
The model for the needs-based funding of early childhood and basic education has been updated and the amount of funding has been increased. The needs-based funding is targeted at the daycare centres and schools that need support in ensuring equal learning opportunities.
In comprehensive schools, the learning and mastery of emotional and interaction skills have been reinforced. Comprehensive schools have drawn up plans for teaching emotional and interactional skills, and the topic is regularly explored with pupils. School coaches and multilingual instructors offer pupils low-threshold support and guidance. The City of Helsinki’s schools have employed 19 school coaches, and the establishment of the model has been prepared for the 2023–2024 school year.
Helsinki is currently taking part in the extensive, national SKY and Right to Learn projects aimed at strengthening learners’ wellbeing and ensuring the necessary support for learning. The starting point of the Right to Learn project is to ensure that every child and young person receives the necessary support in a systematic, multiprofessional and timely manner.
Integration plays an important role in reducing inequalities
At the end of 2021, the population of Helsinki included 116,000 people with a foreign background. Of these people, 93,527 were born abroad. People with a foreign background accounted for 18% of the population, and this proportion has been steadily increasing. People have moved to Finland for work, study or family reasons, and some have received residence permits on the basis of international protection. At the end of 2020, people with a foreign background born abroad represented 13% of the city’s working population and 27% of the city’s unemployed population. The unemployment rate of immigrants was 25%.
The poor employment situation affects financial resources and thereby the wellbeing of individuals and families. Integration is a multidimensional phenomenon and includes aspects related to language and culture acquisition, the building of social relations and networks, inclusion and participation, and the development of a sense of belonging, among other things. People with foreign backgrounds in Helsinki have integrated in very different ways, with many doing well but some facing various challenges in different areas of their lives. At worst, these are also reflected in their children, the second-generation immigrants born in Finland. A great deal of work has been done to promote integration, but most of it has been project-based. For example, people who have moved to Finland for work and mothers caring for their children at home have been difficult to reach.
Socio-economic sum index by district of Helsinki
People with a foreign background, foreign speakers and foreign citizens in Helsinki at the end of the year 1990–2021
- Families with children receive support at an earlier stage thanks to new operating models.
- The model for leisure activities has been developed in cooperation between divisions to ensure that every child gets a hobby.
- The needs-based funding model has had a positive impact on reducing inequalities in education, and the approach was also extended to other divisions.
- The Helsinki Skills Center provides vocational training and employment services to those who have moved to Finland.
- International House Helsinki provides a wide range of authority and advisory services for those who have moved to the Helsinki Metropolitan Area from abroad.
Areas for development:
- Much of the development work for reducing inequalities and integration is carried out in projects, making it more difficult to carry out systematic and long-term work.
- Cooperation between divisions must be further improved, and structures for preventing social exclusion must be further developed.
- The COVID-19 crisis has further increased the risk of social exclusion of young people and has weakened the position of socially excluded and homeless people.
- Reaching parents caring for their children and families in order to support the progress of their integration requires further development.
- The prevention of social and regional ethnic segregation and the mitigation of its negative consequences must be developed.
- The employment path of immigrants must be shortened.