Antti Rinne won a general election promising to fix Finlands welfare state. The big challenge now facing the prime minister-elect is how to defuse the demographic time bomb thats ticking underneath it.
Finland has one of the most comprehensive welfare states in Europe. As in Nordic neighbor Sweden, taxpayer-funded health and social care and schooling are the norm.
But its population is aging faster than most of Europe. Official projections show that Finlands falling birth rate means the proportion of citizens of working age, 15 to 64, will fall from its current 62 percent to 60 percent by 2030, and to 58 percent by 2050.
By 2050, the working-age population will have decreased by 200,000 compared with today in a country of around 5.5 million.
This will have serious repercussions for state finances, according to officials. Fewer workers will be paying in to public finances while an increasing elderly population will be taking more out.
In Japan, economic growth has slowed to a standstill and strenuous fiscal and monetary policy efforts by the countrys leaders have yet to reenergize the economy.
Economists in Finland talk of a looming “sustainability gap.”
The central bank said that while public debt relative to economic output has been falling of late, “the rise in public expenditure stemming from population aging over the next decades threatens to reverse this.”
The challenge for Finland and for Rinne, whose Social Democrats secured a narrow victory in Aprils election, is of broader interest because, while the country is aging faster than its neighbors, some of them arent far behind. Countries across Europe, from Germany to Italy to Portugal, are also set to see the proportion of elderly citizens in their populations rise.
“Finland certainly serves as a bellwether for Europe regarding its demographics,” said Bert Colijn, an economist specializing in the eurozone at the Dutch bank ING, in a recent analysis.
Official statistics show the birth rate in Finland is already falling and has done so in each of the past eight years. In the South Karelia region, in Finlands east, close to the Russian border, the fall in the birth rate was 11 percent last year.
At the headquarters of the local council, officials are tracking developments with a growing sense of alarm.
“Of course it is a worry,” said Johannes Moisio, who sits on the regional council. “Municipal finances are already under pressure. things like hospitals and housing for the elderly are a big burden on municipalities, these types of services are very expensive.”
Moisio said schools in smaller towns are being closed and services concentrated in regional urban centers like Lappeenranta in an effort to reduce costs. Meanwhile, across the country, stories are emerging of failures in elderly care provision as municipalities struggle to find the right balance between quality of service and efficiency.
The concern for Finland, and for the rest of Europe, is that their future will replicate the economic present of the worlds most aged society: Japan.
There, economic growth has slowed to a standstill and strenuous fiscal and monetary policy efforts by the countrys leaders have yet to reenergize the economy.
“Finland is now facing problems similar to those with which Japan has already struggled for more than a decade,” the Finnish central bank said in a 2016 report. “The population is aging, and slow economic growth is not generating sufficient funds to cover growing public expenditure; general government debt threatens to become unsustainable.”
The Finnish central bank said Japans experience shows that postponing decisions on reforming the structures of the economy too far into the future may lead to reduced growth and employment, with resulting high costs.
A general view of Finlands parliament building in Finnish capital Helsinki | Kimmo Brandt/EPA-EFE
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One-in-five suffers mental health condition in conflict zones: new UN report
More than one-in-five people living in conflict-affected areas suffers from a mental illness, accord..
More than one-in-five people living in conflict-affected areas suffers from a mental illness, according to a new UN-backed report, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to call for increased, sustained investment in mental health services in those zones.
Around 22 per cent of those affected, suffer depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, according to an analysis of 129 studies published in The Lancet – a United Kingdom-based peer-reviewed medical journal.
“The new estimates, together with already available practical tools for helping people with mental health conditions in emergencies, add yet more weight to the argument for immediate and sustained investment, so that mental and psychosocial support is made available to all people in need living through conflict and its aftermath,” said study author Mark van Ommeren, who works in WHOs Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
The study also shows that about nine per cent of conflict-affected populations have a moderate to severe mental health condition; substantially higher than the global estimate for these mental health conditions in the general population.
“Depression and anxiety appeared to increase with age in conflict settings, and depression was more common among women than men”, according to the study.
The revised estimates use data from 39 countries published between 1980 and August 2017, categorized cases as mild, moderate or severe. Natural disasters and public health emergencies, such as recent Ebola virus outbreaks in Africa, were not included.
The findings suggested that past studies underestimated the burden of mental health conditions in conflict-affected areas,
showing increased rates of severe, moderate and mild mental health issues, with the latter being the most prevalent.
“I am confident that our study provides the most accurate estimates available today of the prevalence of mental health conditions in areas of conflict”, said lead author of the study Fiona Charlson of the University of Queensland, Australia and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, in the United States.
In 2016, there were 53 ongoing conflicts in 37 countries, meaning that 12 per cent of the worlds population was living in an active conflict zone – an all-time high. Moreover, the fact that nearly 69 million people globally have been forcibly displaced by violence and conflict, makes it the highest global number since the Second World War. (more…)
GM fungus rapidly kills 99% of malaria mosquitoes, study suggests
A fungus – genetically enhanced to produce spider toxin – can rapidly kill huge numbers of the mosqu..
A fungus – genetically enhanced to produce spider toxin – can rapidly kill huge numbers of the mosquitoes that spread malaria, a study suggests.
Trials, which took place in Burkina Faso, showed mosquito populations collapsed by 99% within 45 days.
The researchers say their aim is not to make the insects extinct but to help stop the spread of malaria.
The disease, which is spread when female mosquitoes drink blood, kills more than 400,000 people per year.
Worldwide, there are about 219 million cases of malaria each year.
Conducting the study, researchers at the University of Maryland in the US – and the IRSS research institute in Burkina Faso – first identified a fungus called Metarhizium pingshaense, which naturally infects the Anopheles mosquitoes that spread malaria.
The next stage was to enhance the fungus. "They're very malleable, you can genetically engineer them very easily," Prof Raymond St Leger, from the University of Maryland, told BBC News.
They turned to a toxin found in the venom of a species of funnel-web spider in Australia.
The genetic instructions for making the toxin were added to the fungus's own genetic code so it would start making the toxin once it was inside a mosquito.
"A spider uses its fangs to pierce the skin of insects and inject toxins, we replaced the fangs of spider with Metarhizium," Prof St Leger explained. (more…)
Journalist ‘no-platformed’ by GPs over Enoch Powell tweet
The Royal College of GPs has rescinded Julia Hartley-Brewer's invitation to speak at its 2019 c..
The Royal College of GPs has rescinded Julia Hartley-Brewer's invitation to speak at its 2019 conference after doctors complained about a tweet defending Enoch Powell.
Hundreds of people signed a petition calling for the cancellation over her "highly controversial views".
Ms Hartley-Brewer said "Twitter offence archaeologists" were punishing her.
The RCGP said it "promotes inclusivity" and her views were "too much at odds" with its "core values".
Ms Hartley-Brewer had been expected to join a panel of guests in October for the conference being held in Liverpool.
But more than 700 people signed a petition calling for members of the RCGP to "boycott" her presence, noting her "controversial" views.
In a deleted tweet from 2016, Ms Hartley-Brewer said "Powell wasn't a racist" and referred to Tony Blair calling him "one of the great figures of 20th century British politics".
She also said: "I'm not defending Powell, I just don't see anything in the Rivers speech that he got wrong."
Enoch Powell was an MP most famous for his 1968 Rivers of Blood speech, where he said by permitting mass immigration the country was "heaping up its own funeral pyre".
Responding to the RCGP's decision for the Spectator, Ms Hartley-Brewer said she was "commenting on the accuracy of his predictions" about integration, rather than making a moral judgment which endorsed his views. (more…)
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