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“Yes, I am worried.”– Experiences of the Nordic Welfare State by Customer Service Specialists of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland

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Title: “Yes, I am worried.”– Experiences of the Nordic Welfare State by Customer Service Specialists of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland
Author(s): Glad, Henna
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Degree program: Master's Programme in European and Nordic Studies
Specialisation: Social Sciences
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2021
Abstract:
Nordic welfare states are globally admired success stories with the happiest people, high level of education, and equal redistribution of resources. Change in the welfare state’s ethos since 1980s and the recent crises in the contemporary world have left their imprints to these northern countries and the strong welfare states have been claimed to be in decline. This thesis is analysing if the welfare state and its ethos have started to fade away or are they still resilient and stabilising actors in the society. The aim of this study is to evaluate the Nordic welfare state from the perspective of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, Kela, and evaluate the argument of the declining welfare state by the people, who are working in one of the most visible welfare producing institutions in Finland. The Nordic welfare model is compared with other European welfare regimes, based on Gøsta Esping-Andersen’s classic “Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism”. As any of these models are impeccable, the critique of the Nordic model is also presented in this research. Another main theory used in this research is liquid modernity by Zygmunt Bauman, which argues that modernity today is liquid by its nature and a system that is forgetting issues, such as community and trust towards each other in the society. Replacing security and feelings of commonness with neoliberal and market-oriented welfare policies is causing the declination of the welfare state and alienation of people from each other. These neoliberal ideas have also their effects on Kela. In addition, Kela’s role in the Finnish welfare state will be analysed in this research. Eight qualitative interviews are constituting the empirical data for this research. Theory-guided content analysis is being used to analyse the interviews, which were conducted in spring 2021. Interviews done with Kela’s customer service specialists are being contrasted with the theoretical framework. This research argues that the declination of the welfare state is caused by the fluidity of modern society which is causing unpredictability and insecurity to people’s lives even in the safe havens of the Norden. The results show that the concerns of the contemporary welfare state are real, and according to the professionals interviewed worry for the future. Polarisation, fragmented employment relationships, and social exclusion were seen as threats to the welfare state. On contrary, acting as a nanny-state and saving people with money, and increasing benefits’ levels were not seen as solutions to the eternal problem of the Nordic welfare state. What is a sufficient level of activation on behalf of the society and what is the role and responsibility of an individual? All in all, the Nordic welfare state is seen as an institution, which guarantees security to its residents and acts as a safety net, if needed. Welfare-producing institutions, such as Kela, are a part of this safety net, and replacing them does not seem likely in the future. Instead, combining the unpredictable future and the competitiveness society with the welfare state is seen as a problem, to which the welfare state needs to find answers in the future.
Keyword(s): Kela Nordic welfare state welfare models liquid modernity


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