Research on Finnish Society 10(1):2017

Declaring, shepherding, managing: The welfare state ethos in Finnish government programmes, 1950-2015

Matilda Hellman, Marjukka Monni & Anna Alanko
University of Helsinki, University of Tampere

This study is concerned with the Finnish government’s political programmes (N=42) from the 1950s to the present. Its objective is to examine how conceptions of the welfare state have changed over the past 65 years. The analysis concentrates on the social and health care sectors as indicators of the content and nature of the ambitions set for the welfare system by the highest political leadership. The programmes were examined for their aims, character and concepts. The governments’ changing position towards its welfare political mandate emerges in three distinct periods: 1) 1950 through the 1970s, when the welfare state was being constructed; 2) the 1980s and 1990s, as the concept was further developed and internally synchronized; and 3) 2000 to 2015, a time of increasing estrangement from universal notions. The study shows that as late as 2014, the welfare state’s aims of inclusion and universalism were dramatically toned down to an absolute minimum in the government programmes. The article shows that in contemporary times, the coalition government system may have strengthened the welfare state ethos. This is a finding of great significance for a structural-political perspective on the support of welfare state ideas.

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