[VIEWPOINT]Promises to handicapped fall shortThe average handicapped person’s monthly income of 1.57 million won ($1,635) per household stands at 54 percent of the average income of urban workers; the unemployment rate of 23.1 percent is seven times higher than that of ordinary workers; the average monthly wage, even for employed people, of 1.15 million won stands at 45 percent of the 2.58 million won average salary of regular workers, and there are 260,000 households that receive minimum livelihood payments, twice as many as non-handicapped households.
The above figures represent the reality for handicapped people in our society. In a country with the 11th-strongest economy in the world, this is a dark side.
Roh’s “participatory” government claimed that it would extend a helping hand to the underprivileged when it was launched three years ago. But the pledge doesn’t look so strong, because the handicapped budget allotted to the Ministry of Health and Welfare is 0.45 percent of the total, an increase of just 0.03 percent from the previous year.
It has become a “big but weak” government which can’t even support the handicapped with half of the amount they need because of their disability, which is 155,000 won per month.
Sometimes, the parent of a seriously handicapped child has to give up his or her job, but the government subsidy for handicapped children is frozen.
More than 90 percent of the handicapped lead their lives depending on help from family members. There is literally no government policy for the handicapped.
It would have been better if the government didn’t make a promise. The promise that the government would enact a law that will prohibit discrimination against the handicapped, which was made at the time of launching of the new administration, is still in obscurity. In addition, if we consider the confusion caused by the transfer of the welfare budget to local governments and the fact that the budget for the handicapped is mainly spent on facilities that are not for the handicapped, we must conclude that the government has no will to help them.
In advanced countries, governments consider the handicapped to be people who lead their daily lives as non-handicapped people, but need support.
As citizens, handicapped people should be able to exercise basic human rights and enjoy cultural life. The government takes it as its basic duty to find out welfare requirements and provide the necessary support. The government calculates the kinds and the duration of services necessary for the handicapped, considering the kinds and the degrees of disabilities, economic abilities and the person’s family background and local society.
When a handicapped person requests a survey, the government has the duty to carry out necessary evaluations. This is the society-centered support model adopted by advanced countries such as the United Kingdom.
For handicapped people with serious disabilities, the government provides services such as providing commuting means and even a job for a family member who accompanies the handicapped person to work. In this case, businesses that employ the handicapped face less bias.
Those who can’t work at ordinary workplaces can be trained at workshops with government-provided facilities to be skilled workers in other jobs.
Let’s look at the situation we are in. Disability subsidies to households with a handicapped person must be paid as soon as possible, either by improving the present subsidy system or by introducing a disability pension.
When this problem is solved, we can solve the employment problem. If the government leads the way, private businesses will follow.
After that, the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Health and Welfare should work together to solve the problem of protective employment of the handicapped.
The problem is located between the employment and the basic welfare. So it is apt to be fumbled. The standard employment subsidy, which was the main reason 100 billion won was drained for the employment of handicapped people last year, must be streamlined.
Yesterday was Handicapped People’s Day.
Those with serious disabilities have staged a rally in the center of the city during this month, demanding an expanded aid-service system for the handicapped.
In the early Joseon Dynasty, the government established an organization called Myeongtongsi to help blind people.
During the rule of King Jungjong, the king dissuaded Gweon Gyu, a high ranking courier, who tendered his resignation after having an epilepsy fit.
And since the Goryeo Dynasty, the government separated the handicapped into those who could support their livelihood and those who could not, to provide separate services. I wonder whether our ancestors would lament seeing handicapped people on the streets saying history does not always move forward.
* The writer is a professor of social welfare at the University of Seoul.
by Lee Seong-gyu