[EDITORIALS]Rescuing those in povertyA comprehensive plan to strengthen the social safety net for the poor by spending 8.6 trillion won ($8.3 billion) over four years untill 2009 was finalized at a meeting between the government and the governing Uri Party. Under the plan, the government will provide 22 welfare programs, including medicare, housing, education and self-help projects, for those who belong to the group directly above those in absolute poverty and are in the blind spot of social welfare planning. We hope that this plan will break the generational cycle of poverty and provide a basis for changing the social structure in which polarization is continually worsening.
Among the 4 million people who earn less than 1,356,000 won ($1,310) per month, the number who hover above the povery line of 1,130,000 won a month is around 2.6 million. Some 63 percent of the households among these millions are headed by the elderly, and more than half of the family heads suffer from chronic diseases. Providing protection is vital, as they have no hope of escaping poverty. The plan should help the poor to find a way to help themselves, and prevent them from falling into absolute poverty.
What matters is money. The government has no plan for how to raise 3 trillion of the aggregate 8.6 trillion won needed over the next four years, except that it will reduce expenditures in other fields. As the budget is already in the red due to poor revenue, it is not easy to increase the welfare budget. When the economy is stagnant, it is even more difficult.
It is necessary to provide financial support to poor families with handicapped or elderly members. But people who can work shouldn’t rely on government support. The best welfare is creating jobs. Some 45 percent of the heads of families that belong to next-poorest demographic are capable of working. Any welfare plan for them should focus on job training, helping them to find jobs or to start a business.
Under the plan, the number of people to whom the government will pay a minimum livelihood expense has increased by 116,000, because the selection criteria will be relaxed. Since a large amount of government subsidies will be paid to them, strict control over the selection and management of the beneficiaries is needed. Those scamming the system must be strictly punished. When government support for the poor increases, the temptation to remain jobless grows.
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