[LETTERS to the editor]Social safety net for hard times

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[LETTERS to the editor]Social safety net for hard times

There are people who are in most need of a social safety net when the economy goes through difficult times. They are the low-income disabled, children who have to support their families, senior citizens living alone and jobless people.

Warm-hearted care and substantial support are necessary lest those who are particularly vulnerable to the economic downturn collapse. A situation during the 1997 financial crisis should not be repeated where a large number of the middle class degenerated into the poor and needy due to the lack of a social safety net.

In these circumstances, it is worrisome that the government is tightening its purse strings regarding aid to the poor and needy. This year, the government has cut 10 percent of its subsidy for the poor and is likely to remain passive next year as well. According to the government’s revised 2009 draft budget, 200 billion won ($142.2 million) and 300 billion won will be used to support the poor and needy, and the jobless, respectively. However, the amounts are not adequate, considering an expected increase in the numbers of the poor, needy and jobless amid the economic downturn.

With economic conditions worsening, small individual donations are also on the decline. A social welfare organization said that it has lowered the target amount of subscriptions to be raised this year, for the first time in 10 years. Another group said the number of small individual donors has fallen by half and regular givers are cutting their regular contributions.

There is also a possibility that companies may reduce their donations and social contribution activities due to the worsening economy. What is fortunate though is that Korean companies have continuously increased their expenditures on social contribution activities over recent years. According to a report by the Federation of Korean Industries, the social contribution expenditure of major corporations including Samsung, Hyundai Motor, LG and SK rose 13.1 percent, or 1.22 trillion won, in 2004 from the previous year and 28.7 percent, or 1.80 trillion won, in 2006.

Social contributions by Korean companies are not yet comparable to their counterparts in other developed countries, but they are effectively supplementing the government’s social safety net. Winter is the season when the poor and needy need more attention. While our economy is going through difficult times, we should take more interest in government’s social welfare measures and in companies actively making social contributions.

Kim Seong-jae, director, Purme Foundation

*e-mail to eopinion@joongang.co.kr or via fax to 82-2-751-9219
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