[EDITORIALS]Help for those near the lineThe Ministry of Health and Welfare has extended a safety net to people who are not otherwise eligible to receive government assistance, providing them a month’s living allowance when their livelihood is threatened by unexpected financial problems. Included in the aid is the exemption from the payment of late health insurance fees if the government decides the family does not have the financial capacity to pay.
According to government statistics, 3.2 million people, or 7 percent of the population, live just above the official poverty line, which separates them from those whose income qualifies them for government assistance. They have a monthly income that is 20 percent higher than the government calculated minimum cost of living, 1 million won ($844) for a family of four. Korea’s welfare system is focused on providing protection to 1.35 million people whose income is below the minimum level. As a result, many are left without government support, housing, educational subsidies and medical fees.
Recent suicides underscore this problem. A woman in her 30s jumped to her death after throwing her three young children from the window. In Wanju, South Jeolla province, a family of four, including two daughters aged five and six, were found dead in a murder suicide. Although the government promised to build a welfare society, these people ended their lives. Help from the government might have made a difference.
The tight criteria for minimum living assistance is also problematic. Although the income is below the minimum, if the family owns a car or lives in a house bigger than 20 pyeong (66 square meters), it is ineligible. It is estimated that more than 1.8 million people are denied welfare benefits in this manner.
The government’s plan to provide a safety net for semi-needy people is laudable. But the government measure should not stop at treating the symptoms of poverty. To help people climb out of welfare, the government should provide them jobs. At the same time, if assistance for their children’s education is provided, they can be freed from the vicious cycle of poverty.