Although the Nordic countries have fared better than many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nordic Welfare Forum 2021 demonstrated that there’s always room for improvement. Gender equality was the subject of a lot of attention, and it was mentioned that in several places in the Nordic Region, it is increasingly apparent that the pandemic is widening gender imbalances. Young people, people with functional challenges, and the socially disadvantaged are being hit harder by the negative consequences of COVID-19 than other groups. Young people in particular have experienced some of the biggest declines in mental health, social association, and subjective wellbeing. In some ethnic minority communities, COVID-19 mortality has been almost twice as high as in other groups, while workers from ethnic minority backgrounds have been more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic.
How we’ll move forwards
The focus of the Finnish presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers is on how the Nordic countries can better leverage a welfare-economy approach in the management of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as on strengthening the welfare model more generally. The welfare economy can be seen as a cross-sectoral approach in which human wellbeing is directly connected to the social economy. In simple terms, it can be concluded that the conditions for a sustainable economy are in place, provided that the Nordic Region has a population that is healthy, gender equal in education and in work, productive, innovative and, last but not least, has access to good quality social and healthcare systems.
We want to create broader understanding that investments in citizens’ welfare should be seen as a contributing factor to sustainable economic growth
Concrete efforts – knowledge-building and knowledge platforms
Finland, together with Denmark and Iceland, has led the way thanks to years of work on an economically sustainable approach. However, similar initiatives exist in all the Nordic countries.
“We want to create broader understanding that investments in citizens’ welfare should be seen as a contributing factor to sustainable economic growth,” said Finland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen. Prompted by Denmark, the Nordic Council of Ministers is exploring peoples’ experiences of welfare-economy initiatives and social investments in the Nordic Region at both the state and municipal levels. At the same time, a platform must be developed for sharing knowledge about these results over the long term so that the Nordic countries can inspire each other and share the initiatives that work.
A problem that extends beyond the Nordic Region
The impact of COVID-19 beyond the Nordic Region was also discussed at the Nordic Welfare Forum 2021. Figures show that mental health in many countries has suffered as a result of the pandemic. Romina Boarini, Director of the OECD Center for Well-Being, Inclusion, Sustainablity and Equal Opportunity (WISE) in France, pointed out that citizens’ mental health has deteriorated considerably during the pandemic. Data from 15 OECD countries indicates that more than 25 percent of people were at risk of depression or anxiety in 2020. Feelings of loneliness, division, and separation from society also grew, with one in five people in 22 European OECD countries citing that they felt lonely most or all of the time in early2021. This is a rise from one in seven people in the first months of the pandemic a year earlier.