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In her report for 2024 on the implementation of the long-term national development strategy “Estonia 2035”, Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo discussed the programmes relating to children and families, the elderly, social welfare, and gender equality and equal treatment.

Riisalo pointed out that strong communities, that is, people, made strong societies. The Minister said that all Estonian people, regardless of where they were in Estonia or what their background was, contributed in one way or another to their community, to our society. “And the strength of a community depends on how much each individual member is supported and involved, “Riisalo emphasised.

The Minister explained that the Ministry of Social Affairs mainly operated in two different result areas. These are health and well-being. “Our aim is both to reduce inequalities and to support people throughout their life-course. Today, the most important thing for us is to ensure a sustainable population and well-being, to make the organisation of social protection effective and responsive to people’s personal needs, and to enhance the long-term care system,” Riisalo said.

Speaking about children and families, the minister said that, statistically, people in Estonia considered an average of 2.35 children per family to be ideal. “Our aim is to build on the same principles, putting the well-being of today’s children and families first, and to target public resources in a diversified and sensible way to support families and to create a more favourable environment for future generations,” Riisalo confirmed. She added that, in recent years, Estonia had indeed moved steadily along a path of support for children and families that was as diverse as possible. “This means that, alongside financial support, we will increasingly pay attention to services that would be designed to support the management of current and future families as well as parenting,” the minister said. She gave examples from the system of social benefits.

Riisalo highlighted the importance of transferring the funding of support services for foster, guardianship and adoptive families to the state budget, which previously had been operating as a project-based activity. “This change will provide greater certainty and better support for families raising a child deprived of parental care in their family and will contribute to the creation of new foster families,” the minister said.

Riisalo highlighted the “Estonia 2035″ objective of keeping the population size stable, which had been met thanks to positive immigration that compensated for the negative natural birth rate. “The increase in immigration was particularly marked due to the arrival of war refugees from Ukraine in 2022 when the population increased by 2.6%,” the minister admitted. She noted that the low birth rate was not however a problem only in Estonia, but across Europe, affected by the COVID crisis, Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, the cost of living, and rising prices. In periods of instability, birth rate has always fallen, and in Eastern European countries this has also been exacerbated by the smaller generation born in 1990. “This is why we have to analyse how to ensure confidence for families and to understand exactly what support families need from the state. However, this support will certainly be multifaceted and created through a skilful interweaving of different areas of life,” Riisalo said.

She said that, in November 2023, the legislative intent to amend the Social Welfare Act and other Acts had been completed with the aim of creating a system of a rehabilitation service based on a person’s need for assistance. One of its key objectives is the provision of rehabilitative individual services and interventions for people with special needs, integrated with health services.

Speaking about the elderly, Riisalo explained that, on the part of the state, it is important to ensure that people’s old age is secure and that the necessary support is also available where necessary. In order to strengthen social protection, it is important that people be healthy, active, and financially secure and have financial knowledge and skills in later life as well.

Riisalo noted that, in comparison with other European Union countries, Estonia’s pensioners were, among other things, at the forefront in terms of employment. A number of socio-economic factors can be seen behind this: increasing average age, a longer healthy life expectancy and certainly also self-fulfilment. Statistics show that Estonian people are at the top in Europe in terms of the employment of the elderly.

The Minister pointed out that population ageing was nevertheless a reality, and it was therefore important as a country to contribute to ensuring that our people remain healthy and fit and feel that their participation and presence in decision-making processes is valuable. Within the framework of strategic partnership, we have also developed the document “An Age-Friendly Estonia”. These principles give different agencies an overview of the way to best involve the elderly in their activities.

Riisalo said that, according to the data of the European Institute for Gender Equality, Estonia’s Gender Equality Index score would be 60.2 points in 2023, placing us 17th in the European Union. The average score is 70.2% but we still remain below it. The main reason for this is a setback in the areas of the use of time and power. Compared to women, men have more flexibility in their working hours as well as more personal free time. Although the gender balance in politics has improved, in particular thanks to women’s equal representation in government, the share of women in economic decision-making, including on the boards of major listed companies, remains very low.

Riisalo explained that, among other things, in cooperation with other European Union countries, we are committed to making pay systems more transparent and reducing the gender pay gap through the Pay Transparency Directive.

In the opinion of the minister, one of the most acute problems however remains the deficiency of legal aid. There are shortcomings in legal regulation. “For example, the limited scope of application of the Equal Treatment Act leaves people with disabilities and several other minority groups without effective protection in areas outside working life, including the availability of goods and services. On the other hand, effective legal protection also requires the monitoring of compliance with the law and the provision of free primary legal aid and assessment by the Gender Equality and Equal Treatment Commissioner. This is why it is important to ensure that the Commissioner’s institution has the mandate as well as the resources needed to function effectively,” the minister said.

Riisalo said that, going forward, we are committed to the modernisation and effective implementation of the legal framework for gender equality and equal opportunities. “I hope that in the future we will see a widening of the circle of people protected from discrimination, which means an increased number of people with better opportunities to participate in the labour market and society at large. This will improve their economic livelihoods and opportunities for self-fulfilment and increase their capacity to contribute to society and thereby to stimulating the economy,” Riisalo said.

During the debate, Riina Solman (Isamaa), Lauri Laats (Centre Party), Irja Lutsar (Estonia 200), Õnne Pillak (Reform Party) and Helmen Kütt (Social Democratic Party) took the floor.

Minister of Climate Kristen Michal replied to the interpellations concerning the extent of the licence to drive category B vehicles (No. 327) and the renovation of Estonian housing stock (No. 592), submitted by members of the Riigikogu.

Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo replied to the interpellations concerning the need to protect children’s right to life before birth (No. 554), the collection of data regarding post-abortion complications (No. 550) and the situation in care homes (No. 571).

The interpellators withdrew from the proceedings the interpellation concerning the need to protect children’s right to life before birth (No. 521), submitted to Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo.

Before today’s sitting, President of Finland Alexander Stubb made a speech before the plenary.

Rain Epler took the floor during the open microphone.

The sitting ended at 7.57 p.m.

Photos: /Author: Erik Peinar, Chancellery of the Riigikogu/

Verbatim record of the sitting (in Estonian)

Video recording will be available to watch later on the Riigikogu YouTube channel.

Riigikogu Press Service
Gunnar Paal,
+372 631 6351, +372 5190 2837
[email protected]
Questions: [email protected]