How not to do welfareWhen it comes to the issue of welfare, both the liberal and conservative camps are trying to pat themselves on the back. Even the ruling Grand National Party now supports universal welfare programs, including free child day care for toddlers up to four years old and a whopping 20 percent increase in pensions for senior citizens.
As a result, welfare takes up more than 28 percent of the government’s budget for next year of 92 trillion won ($81 billion). On being elected Seoul mayor, Park Won-soon rushed to make real his populist promise of free school meals for all students and a 50 percent reduction in a city university’s tuition - which required additional funding of 63.5 billion won and 14.8 billion won respectively.
If Park wants to increase the welfare budget while his city’s tax revenues stay flat, he must slash other programs, which hurts people in need. As the JoongAng Ilbo’s special series on welfare demonstrated, a district office in Seoul has suspended its free after-school programs for as many as 25,000 kindergarten and elementary school students. Some districts have stopped providing free dinners to middle and high school students in the lowest income bracket, the inevitable outcome of an indiscriminate increase in welfare expenditures.
Likewise, the Seoul Metropolitan Council, which is dominated by the Democratic Party, has criticized Park’s welfare policy as being “imprudent,” with some members arguing that not only social welfare but construction work - like opening tunnels to relieve traffic jams - can also be considered part of universal welfare. They demanded that the mayor approach the issue of tuition cuts more prudently.
Welfare programs’ top priority should be their effectiveness, not the size of their budgets. Budget increases alone do not guarantee a proportional escalation of satisfaction among welfare recipients. As seen in the past, there weren’t many people who felt happier after the government’s welfare budget increased 9 percent annually. That’s because of our inefficient welfare services. And, of course, there are many recipients who do not deserve welfare services in the first place.
Once increased, welfare budgets rarely go down. That’s why we must find ways to make an impact with less money, which naturally calls for a more detailed classification of recipients as well as a preliminary feasibility study of expected effects from welfare programs. That’s the way to successful and sustainable welfare programs.