Swift welfare assistancePresident Lee Myung-bak’s visit to a health and welfare center was timely, sparking concerns over new groups of marginalized people and communities caught in the no man’s land of welfare.
A growing proportion of the middle class is slipping lower in the social ladder as unemployment and businesses failures rise rapidly. More than 3,000 people in Seoul alone applied for personal bankruptcy protection in a month, and unemployed numbers nationwide will soon exceed 1 million.
Those who suddenly have no means of support are alienated from the existing social safety net. Therefore it is necessary for the central and local governments to provide swift assistance.
To do so, we should not mindlessly stick to regulations in the current welfare system. There are many cases where people in dire circumstances are ineligible for basic livelihood security assistance, or urgent assistance.
Among 85,000 households in crisis that sought help from the so-called institution for the stabilization of the people’s livelihood run by the government since last January, a considerable number failed to get support due to such reasons.
This story is not restricted to the newly marginalized. A government survey in 2007 showed that 2.47 million people among applicants for basic livelihood security assistance were left off the list after an examination of their assets and dependents.
Certain criteria are of course necessary due to welfare budget limitations. In addition, money should not be wasted on ineligible persons or duplicate applications.
However, if recipients are determined solely by narrow criteria, we have no way to rescue people who are in no man’s land. This is why field investigation is an integral part of the work.
When an official conducts a field study, he or she can determine whether the government should help or what kind of help would be most effective.
The limitation is the serious shortage of public officials providing such welfare services.
On average, a public official is responsible for 300 households, so dealing with public requests by telephone is beyond an official’s capacity.
If it is difficult to increase the number of public officials, all possible human resources such as interns and volunteers should be mobilized.
The government’s primary priority should be reducing the number of people suffering from extreme poverty.