Parties trot out welfare to get votesTower Palace, a residential complex in Daechi-dong, and I-Park Tower in Samseong-dong, two high-rise buildings in an affluent area of southern Seoul, are hard to miss.
Here, a combined 78 senior citizens each receive a basic monthly old-age stipend of between 91,200 won ($81.25) and 145,900 won.
Should the main opposition Democratic United Party win the legislative elections slated for April 11, starting next month, more elderly residents from these two complexes would qualify to receive money, and the amount they receive would also double by 2017.
What the DUP is suggesting as its welfare pledge is what the former Grand National Party, now Saenuri Party, had suggested in 2007 to the then-ruling Uri Party, now the DUP. The pledge back then was criticized as a populist promise ahead of the elections. At present, however, the DUP is moving forward with a pledge that, in the past, it had opposed.
“Settling poverty issues of elderly citizens is a pending issue,” said a DUP official. “We can reduce the amount later on if it becomes a problem [budget wise].”
Both the ruling and opposition parties are pouring out welfare policies. Some question their practicality and worry about the mounting burden that will be placed on future generations.
Criticism is mounting that lawmakers are merely presenting pledges to win more votes ahead of the legislative elections in April and the presidential elections in December.
Both the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition DUP have introduced welfare pledges that would provide financial support to all families with children up to 5 years old.
Presently, child care financial support - from 100,000 won to 200,000 won per month - is only offered to those families in the lower 15 percent income bracket. This campaign promise follows both parties’ moves in December promising to offer financial support to families with children between 0 and 2 years of age, shaking the fundamentals of the government’s child care policies.
“Financial support for child care should be offered to families with children under 2 years of age because they are the ones that should actually be raised at home,” said Park Sook-ja, director of the Korea Childcare Promotion Institute. “However, I’m skeptical about the politicians’ move to expand the target range to children younger than 5 because children above 3 should be sent to day care centers to develop social skills and learn friendship.”
The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development recommends that children between 0 and 2 be raised at home while those between 3 and 5 should be sent to child care centers or kindergartens so that they learn how to socialize.
The national government also follows this advice, and that is why the Ministry of Health and Welfare is opposed to the political pledge to offer financial support to families with children between 3 and 5 years of age. The ministry is concerned that families will not send their children to day care centers in order to receive the money, since it would only be offered to parents who take care of their children at home.
The DUP has also introduced a pledge to cover up to 90 percent of all patients’ hospital bills with public health insurance. Currently, only 62 percent is covered. Concerns are growing that with such a policy, the government will spend too much.
“European experts have already warned us not to follow their path of covering more than 90 percent of medical fees through public health insurance, like in Germany,” said an official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
According to a recent study by Park Yoo-sung, a statistics professor at Korea University, pledges presented by the main opposition party would require the government to spend 12 trillion won more on basic old-age stipends by 2017. The amount would likely increase rapidly to 24 trillion won in 2030 and 163 trillion won in 2050. The government’s deficit from health insurance would also expand from 23 trillion won in 2017 to 57 trillion won in 2030.
“New welfare pledges are being introduced overnight, like offering financial support for parents and assisting college students with tuition fees,” said Kang Myung-soon, of the Saenuri Party.
By Shin Sung-sik, Park Su-ryon [firstname.lastname@example.org]