The Embassy of Finland organized a seminar on “Government Support to Families as a Promoter of Equality and Productivity” in Lobkowicz Palace in Prague on December 9th. The speakers in the seminar were Secretary of Board Ms. Annika Juurakko from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland, Director of Benefits Ms. Anne Neimala from The Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) and Ministerial Counsellor Mrs. Martina Štepankova Štýbrová from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic. The Ambassador of Finland Mrs. Helena Tuuri opened the seminar. The experts discussed the government benefit models of Finland and the Czech Republic.
The Finnish maternity package offered a concrete example on how the authorities in Finland support families. The main reason for this innovation dating from 1938 was to create an incentive for expecting mothers to seek medical supervision during their pregnancy as this was seen to have an important effect in decreasing infant mortality. In the beginning the package was donated only for indigent households, but from 1949 it was donated to everyone. The link between participating to medical follow ups and receiving the package still exists today.
The maternity package is part of a whole benefit system of the family allowances, which have many goals. One of the most important goals is to promote gender equality. Family allowances help women to achieve an equal status in the labour market. This also promotes productivity in the society as a whole when the majority of the population has easy and equal access to the labour market. The basic aim of the package was back then and yet today, narrowing down especially the income gap between families with children and other households.
According to Ms.Annika Juurakko, Finnish women's employment rate is one of the highest in the world. Maternity services are optional and widely used. The most significant reforms in the sphere of Finnish family policy include, for example, mother and child care clinics, maternity grant, free school meals to all pupils and child benefit. Ministry of Social Affairs and Health´s ongoing national reform in child and family services aims to achieve cost effectiveness, improving the quality of the services and moving the focus to preventive actions.
Mrs. Martina Štepankova discussed the ongoing projects on childcare in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic aims to make significant reforms in childcare and parental allowances in the near future.
The maternity package has been an important standard in the Finnish welfare system for decades and has in recent years gained attention and appreciation also outside of Finland. The maternity package came to media attention some years ago and has been globally known especially from two years ago when the international media began writing about it. According to Ms.Anne Neimala, Kela has received thousands of enquiries regarding the package and for example some areas in the UK and Canada have created a similar package.