Sunday, 28 November 2010

Social security madness

First off some boring and irritation-fuelled explanation on how social benefits work in Finland: in spirit, much the same way as everywhere else. That is, they're written and monitored in a way that will make you feel like a common criminal applying for them (and only the knowledge that you paid for those benefits from your wages will ever give you strenght enough to do so), that you feel slightly worse when you receive them because of the constant stream of letters reminding you of this or that being something that you should've remembered to notify the officials of (like say, your cat having four legs, which is simply one leg too many and obviously your cat, being one of the people that contributes to your family in a concrete way, is just showing off) and the random dates and locations you need to remember when dealing with your "local" offices. In short, they're made applying for a "benefit" that will enable you to eat and not lose your home so unpleasant to get that you don't really want to. If this is a clever form of psychological warfare or just them  being dicks, I do not know. I do know that it makes people who've fallen on hard times, like a lot of us do at some point in our lives, feel worse about themselves. Which would totally serve a purpose, if it didn't make people suicidal. Which again, can be seen as serving a purpose. Less money spent on social benefits. Result!

Now, I've had to deal with this ridiculous system of dates and Find The Offices and You Are A Very Bad Person letters a few times. I work manual labour. Work is scarse. It's a dying field regardless of what the unions like to think. Those are just facts and I'm not even going to debate them or try to change them. So being unemployed and looking for a job has happened more than once and being on benefits has happened a few times. Both of these things combined were a big enough wake up call to start looking for a way to make a living that required more effort, but hey, I don't consider that a bad thing. You get out what you put in, so high time I put in more. (see the very first post in this blog)
What I do consider a very very bad thing is making people in a bad place feel like they deserve it for not being humble and poor enough. In the history of the world, how often do you get good, permanent results by guilting people? If you answered "around zero" then you'd be right. If you answered "it's the only way to get people to act" then you probably work with the benefits office devicing these letters.
Now the simple fact that you pay taxes on the social security that you recieve is a bit odd. Odd, but not bad. You can say it's income. You get money and it pays the bills; the very definition of income. Only it's not income to the tax officials. Money you make from working is, money you  recieve as benefits is not (this goes back to filling in other paperwork later on and figuring out what sort of income you're enjoying and how much you've paid taxes on it). They just like to tax it. And tax they do. While regularly, you would pay taxes according to how much you earn, when it comes to benefits, you don't. Because its not income. So let's say you worked only part time and had very small income, you'd pay 10% or less in taxes from that. It's a lot from a small sum, but hey, you're paying to uphold the benefits system which is good. You might need it one day. So I definitely don't have an issue with that. When you go on benefits though, you'll pay 20% taxes. From a little over 500€ a month. Now leaving aside the fact that you're paying taxes at all from benefits (couldn't they just pay you less? No? Alrighty then.).. 20%? Really? Because otherwise I'd just use that -50cents on booze and gambling, right?

And that's not even counting in the insanity that is housing benefits. In case someone didn't know, Helsinki is probably one of the most expensive places to rent or to buy property. Why? lord knows. Because we have that fancy church that's shaped like a missile silo? Because we're totez hip and cool and in the heart of Europe with easy access everywhere? No we're not. Because our apartments are so awesome? Well, yes, if you consider things shaped like an L  and bathrooms with sit-in bathtubs and rubber walls awesome, then yes, yes they are. The fact is that buying a single bedroom apartment anywhere around the Helsinki center is going to run you about 150,000 - 180,000 euros. In the center itself, you can ad another ten or twenty thousand. For a single, that would be a lot. But renting is what will make you really poor. Rents are currently running over 600€ for a studio and that's when you happen to get a deal. How does this have anything to do with the benefits? Well, as far as the benefits office goes, you're only allowed to inhabit a certain amount of square meters and pay a certain amount of rent for those and that would be totally reasonable, unles the statistics the benefits are based on weren't from the 1970s. The maximum amount of space a single person is allowed to take up? 37square meters. The maximum amount they're allowed to pay for it? 450€ of which the benefits will graciously cover 330€. So regardless of your current finacial situation, your social situation or your mental situation, you will be getting 330€ to pay your rent, a letter stating that you're paying too much rent (tell me about it!) and a list of state supported companies renting apartments... that currently charge 715€/month for a 31 square meter one bedroom set up. See, they 're being helpfull by suggesting alternatives for you.
Am I grateful for having at least some sort of financial backing from the state? Absolutely. But the madness.. it must stop.

In other news: The time for thermal underwear has come. I don't think I shall mind looking like a ninja for a few months. :D


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