Nordic Welfare Forum: The Nordic model and social sustainability
In times of crisis, the Nordic welfare model is challenged, and the COVID-19 pandemic in particular has served as a kind of stress test for how the systems handle external threats. The question is: how have the Nordic countries coped with the challenges of the pandemic compared to other countries in Europe? There are signs that suggest the Nordic welfare state is perceived as both less universal and less generous than in the past.
These are some of the many issues that will be addressed at the webinar Nordic Welfare Forum, which will be held on 8-9 December 2021. The webinar will focus on challenges and solutions in the Nordic countries as a result of the pressure placed on welfare systems by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nordic Welfare Forum 2021 is arranged by the Nordic Welfare Centre in close collaboration with the Finnish presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
There is much to suggest that the Nordic region and its welfare model have coped relatively well during the pandemic. Nevertheless, we are seeing a need for revised, or perhaps even reformed, economic models and system solutions in our societies. It has to do with resilience, in other words, the long-term capability of a system to manage changes and continue to develop.
The Nordic welfare state
Professor Bent Greve, from the Department of Social Sciences and Economics at Roskilde University in Denmark, believes there are signs that the view of the Nordic welfare states is changing. Following changes in recent years, such as increased inequality, increased levels of compensation and changes in labour market policy, are the Nordic countries still as distinct as they have been? According to Greve, there exists a classic universal understanding of the ‘Nordic welfare state’ phenomenon. The question is, have the changes in certain areas caused this classic understanding of the ‘Nordic welfare state’ to no longer apply?
“There are signs that suggest the Nordic welfare state is perceived as both less universal and less generous than in the past,” says Greve. “And as a result, the Nordic countries will then have moved closer to the welfare states in the rest of Europe.”
Professor Minna van Gerven, from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki in Finland, will address the question of how the Nordic welfare states have passed the stress test to which they have been subjected by the external threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In her reasoning, van Gerven draws on various government initiatives put in place by the Nordic welfare countries to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and compares this to how other countries in Europe have tackled the same challenges.
Social policy and the pandemic
Professor Johan Fritzell from the Aging Research Center at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, will talk about the impact of social policy on the pandemic. Fritzell believes that the various social policy systems have never faced so many changes in such a short period of time, and this applies both in the Nordic countries and in the rest of Europe. He will present data and analyses from the European Social Policy Network (ESPN) which is the European Commission’s network of experts.
Research Director Matilda Hellman, Faculty of Political Science at the University of Helsinki in Finland, will present an analysis of the media image and debate on the design of the welfare state in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. The media image has revolved around issues linked to the provision of welfare, even under circumstances such as a pandemic. In all four countries, there have been concerns about the survival of the welfare society. At the same time, there has been a sense of pride that we live in countries that guarantee their citizens happiness, health and welfare.
“Public debate shows that demographic developments with an aging population and an increased burden of dependency are what create threats in all countries’ media – there will be a focus on problems and problem statements,” says Hellman.
She thinks it is important for Nordic cooperation to focus on the positive added value offered by cooperation:
“Public discussion expresses enormous social support for the Nordic region as a political, social and democratic project.”
Following welfare developments in the Nordic region
This is the second time the Nordic Welfare Centre has arranged the Welfare Forum on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers. One reason the Nordic Welfare Forum is held every two years is to monitor developments and challenges relating to welfare in the Nordic countries.
The programme is taking shape and further speakers will be announced at a later date. The content of the programme will address issues such as:
- The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. The rise of poverty and social exclusion. Well-being for everyone in the Nordic region.
- Demographic challenges and new welfare solutions. Civil society in cooperation with the welfare state. Welfare economy and digitalisation.
- The pandemic and wellbeing for immigrants and young people
- Indicators and welfare analyses. Nordic statistics and increased knowledge.