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Reducing inequalities

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-lasting problems, although many of the city’s programmes and goals have aimed at reducing them for years.
SDG 10: Reduced inequalities

COVID-19 has worsened the situation of the homeless

The number of Finns at risk of poverty or social exclusion has increased during the COVID-19 crisis. Health and well-being disparities between population groups have also increased, as have regional differences.

In the prevention of social exclusion, Helsinki has particularly invested in children and young people. Digital exclusion has also emerged, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, when digital services have become even more important.

Homelessness and undocumented status are bigger challenges in Helsinki than in the rest of the country. More than half of the homeless in Finland are in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area. In 2019, there were over 2,000 homeless people in Helsinki. 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.

The COVID-19 crisis has further worsened the situation of the homeless, as support services have had to be restricted. Particularly worrying is the number of young homeless people, which has not decreased as strongly as that of other groups.

Homeless and undocumented people are vulnerable

Helsinki aims to halve homelessness by 2023. The city particularly focuses on the development of support services and the service segment as well as on preventive services. Food aid is also available. In spring 2021, approximately 900–1,000 portions of food were distributed to homeless people per day.

The number of undocumented people in Helsinki is difficult to estimate. The undocumented 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.

The homeless and undocumented are in a vulnerable position and are also at high risk of violence and exploitation.

Homeless people in Helsinki in 2019

Total number of homeless 2,034
Living alone 1,678
Women 559
Immigrants 602
Long-term homeless 324
Young people 265
Families with children 70
Immigrant families 28

Preventing the social exclusion of children and young people as a key project in the strategy period

Inequality among children and young people is reduced by high-quality teaching and early childhood education, ensuring that every young person has a hobby, preventing loneliness and bullying at school, and improving mental well-being. In addition, we want children and young people to be able to participate, feel a sense of belonging, influence matters and be heard.

Aiming to prevent the social exclusion of children and young people, the Project for Youth Social Inclusion (Mukana) has invested in ensuring that every child receives education in the City of Helsinki. The competence of staff has been increased, for example, to support children with neuropsychiatric symptoms, and a total of 5,000 professionals from early childhood education to comprehensive school and upper secondary education will receive training in identifying and tackling racism. At the same time, the language awareness of staff will be increased so that pupils can also make use of their native language in learning.

Helsinki has built an anti-bullying programme (ABP13) to prevent and intervene in bullying. The 13 measures in the programme tackle bullying from different directions.

K-0 activities have solved some of the most difficult and long-lasting cases of bullying, and the service is available to all schools and educational institutions. In 2020, K-0 activities had an impact on over 900 people.

Coaching and work partner activities

In order to eradicate black-and-white thinking and extremism, secondary school pupils and upper secondary school students have received My Eyes, Your Eyes (Minun silmin, sinun silmin) training. Safe adults have been added to schools for responsive work, to listen to young people and prevent various problems. School coaches are now working in 19 comprehensive schools and, in addition, 16 multilingual instructors are supporting children and young people with an immigrant background and their families in a total of 45 units.
Emotional and interactive skills are systematically taught in the Me schools. For example, in Laakavuori Lower Comprehensive School in Mellunmäki, these lessons are included in the timetable for each class.

A fieldwork partner model to support school attendance (Koulunkäynnin jalkautuva tuki) has supported pupils and families in north-eastern Helsinki, for example, to prevent early school leaving. In addition to traditional activities, the well-being and learning of vocational students is monitored by means of a mobile survey, so that no young people leave their studies unfinished.

In Kontula, a language training model has been piloted for the employment of immigrant parents, where parents go to school to learn Finnish and things related to job-seeking.

More effective measures

A key challenge in preventing social exclusion has been the fact that the impact of preventive work addressing the root causes cannot be seen in the short term. At the same time, the prevention of social exclusion requires everyone’s efforts.

There is enthusiasm and a willingness for cooperation, but the structures and responsibilities should be developed more systematically. Preventive work has been made more difficult by COVID-19 and the exceptional period, as services have been closed and families or young people have not always been able to be reached as usual. In addition, inequality has increased during the pandemic and the well-being of young people has deteriorated.

Significant efforts will continue to be needed to prevent social exclusion and reduce inequalities. In the future, we should focus on a smaller number of more effective measures.

Anti-bullying programme ABP13

ABP13 is an anti-bullying programme that consists of 13 ways to prevent and address bullying. The purpose of the programme is to help identify bullying and teach how to react to it appropriately. The aim is to make the anti-bullying programme a city-wide practice.

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Affirmative action pays off

One way of tackling inequalities and preventing exclusion is affirmative action, also known as positive discrimination. In the Education Division, funding for affirmative action is implemented in early childhood education, basic education, upper secondary education and vocational education.

Different school levels use different allocation criteria for funding affirmative action. The model has sought to support the realisation of equality in services and to compensate for regional differences in well-being due to the urban structure.

Studies have been carried out on the effectiveness of affirmative action in basic education in the City of Helsinki. The appropriation for affirmative action has been found to reduce early school leaving when moving to upper secondary education.

In addition, the Audit Department assessed the regional equality of basic education in 2019. The assessment also examined the effectiveness of the support measures for basic education, i.e. the appropriation for affirmative action, and concluded that the use of the money had a positive impact.

Among other things, the appropriation had been used to increase small-group instruction and learning support, enable flexible teaching solutions, strengthen the positive learning experiences of learners, purchase diverse teaching tools and hire more staff.

Funding allocated to selected target areas

The concept of affirmative action should be extended to other activities of the city.

Studies show that funding for affirmative action is one of the tools to reduce health and well-being disparities, and calculation models have been further developed during the council term. Funding for affirmative action is currently available in the Education Division, the Social Services and Health Care Division and, from 2020, also the Culture and Leisure Division.

Funding has been allocated to target areas selected on the basis of the calculation models developed. The appropriations have been used to recruit and train staff, to strengthen reading-dog activities and Läksyhelp support for homework in libraries and to establish cultural youth work. In addition, child health clinic work, school and student health care, child health clinic psychology services and social instruction have been strengthened in selected target areas, and maternity and child health clinic services for the undocumented have been launched.

Integration plays an important role in reducing inequalities

In Helsinki, the share of the foreign-language speaking population is increasing all the time. Population change in Helsinki is affected more than before by work-related and family-based immigration, as well as by asylum seekers, whose number varies greatly from year to year.

Of immigrants who moved to Helsinki, 43% were employed in 2018. At the end of 2019, there were 106,000 foreign-language speakers in Helsinki. Between 2005 and 2019, their share of the total population grew from 7% to 16%.

Integration is a wide-ranging phenomenon that includes, for example, language learning and cultural assimilation, identification with the local community and society, and the formation of a social network extending to different population groups. Employment is generally considered to be the most important aspect of structural integration. In addition, the monitoring of integration often also looks at, for example, success in education systems, housing conditions and political participation.

The employment path of working-age people is rather long and the employment rate of part of the immigrants is exceptionally low. The path of stay-at-home parents to working life has also been weak, and integration services have not reached them at home. The group of second-generation immigrants is growing in Helsinki, and it has been noted that this group is not doing as well as the Finnish- and Swedish-speaking groups. Issues related to the development of integration services have often been implemented through projects, so it has not been possible to guarantee systematic and long-term activities also from the state side or to allocate resources especially to the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, where the majority of foreign-language speakers live.


  • Families with children receive support at an earlier stage thanks to new operating models.
  • In supporting young people’s mental health, the service chains have become clearer and new services have been developed.
  • The model of hobbies has been developed in cooperation between divisions to ensure that every child gets a hobby.
  • Affirmative action has had a positive impact on reducing inequalities, and the approach was also extended to other divisions.

Development targets

  • 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 the socially excluded and homeless.
  • The performance of second-generation immigrants is weaker than that of the Finnish- and Swedish-speaking groups.
  • The immigrants’ path to employment is too long.

Links to related programmes, reports and websites