In spring 2018, Kela tightened and standardised its policies concerning students when granting social assistance for the summer months. Students have previously already had to prove that they have not got a summer job despite having searched for one and that they cannot complete studies that advance their degree in the summer and thus cannot apply for student aid for the summer. Before applying for social assistance, any possible savings must also be used. Previously, many municipalities have granted social assistance to students with no other income for the summer without requiring them to have their student loan disbursed. Since then, basic social assistance has been moved under Kela, which now, after a new policy decision, requires students to have their student loan for the entire academic year disbursed before granting social assistance.
Kela’s decision is based on the view that student aid is a primary benefit for students. Government guarantee for the student loan is included in the student aid. However, the student loan is the only loan taken into account as income when applying for social assistance. Other bank loans and payday loans, on the other hand, are not taken into account. According to Kela, any income that must be paid back is not considered as ‘income to be taken into account’ as defined by the Act on Social Assistance. The only exception to this is the student loan.
The Student Union of the University of Helsinki considers this policy decision unjust, as no other group of people is expected to finance their basic subsistence – their food and rent – with borrowed money. The policy becomes especially unreasonable considering that the student loan is specifically meant for financing studies. Kela thus requires students to finance the period of unemployment in the summer that is not dependent on the students themselves with borrowed money that is meant to be used to further their studies.
Cuts to social security costs have lately been justified by stopping the public debt from growing and by not wanting to leave the debt for future generations. At the same time, young people who are only just starting their adult life are required to cover the costs of their food during a period of unemployment with borrowed money meant for studying. Students applying for basic assistance are already on thin ice: they have no work, income or savings. On top of this, they must get into debt.
Student loans, just like any other loans, should not be considered as income when applying for social assistance, especially outside study periods. HYY demands Kela to use more reasonable methods and to treat students equally to other groups of people.
HYY board member