On welfare, sincerity counts

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On welfare, sincerity counts

If a presidential candidate says, “I will withdraw my pledge to cut college tuition in half,” how would it affect the election? Would he or she be defeated because of the loss of votes from young people and their parents as well?

If a presidential candidate says, “I will restore the lost citizenship of half the population of our land,” how would that affect the election? The candidate would go on to explain: “When people grow old or lose their jobs, half of them fail to receive any help from the government. Their basic rights are deprived, so they are not treated as proper citizens. I will restore their citizenship.”

Would that candidate win by securing the support of 50 percent of the voters who have fallen into the pit? Will he or she even win the votes of the youngsters, who have compassion for the old and know that someday they too will grow old and lose their jobs?

These two pledges could be made by the same candidate, who could say: “University students must not feel upset about my proposition. If you are true citizens, you will soon need to find jobs where you may also lose jobs and eventually grow old. The hardships of the half of the Korean people will soon be your hardships. As a presidential candidate, I must appeal to you. There are so many more urgent tasks than half-priced tuition.”

Another way of saying this is, “Half of the people are more important than tuition being cut in half.”

Cutting university tuition by 50 percent was a pledge made by all major presidential candidates. None of them stressed the importance of half of our people. The obsession with college education is excessive. Some universities are not competitive, and some students are unqualified to be in school. College graduates often complain that they can’t find their dream jobs even after four years of school.

Those are more serious problems than tuition. And hardship for half the people in the country is a far more serious issue. It involves the problems associated with state pensions, unemployment insurance and health care.

It is a fundamental basic of welfare that the state provides help to citizens who no longer have incomes after retirement or due to layoffs and to people who are ill or whose families are ill. That is the foundation of the state welfare system. But the pension payout in Korea today is such a small sum, and about half of the population is not eligible for that small payment because they cannot subscribe to a pension plan.

How small is the pension payout? On average, a subscriber pays into the pension scheme for 23 years to receive 550,000 won ($505) every month. That is about a quarter of the minimum living expense of an elderly couple. That’s not really a reliable pension.

Unemployment insurance has even more serious problems. About 34 percent of those who are currently employed are in a blind spot of the system. Even if they have an unemployment insurance plan, they can receive half of their salaries only for the first eight months after losing employment. It’s no wonder that most of the people jump into the swamp of self-employment after they lose jobs. And that puts them into the vicious cycle of the failing of microbusinesses.

State health insurance is a little better, but it still has many holes when the subscribers or their families become seriously ill. Almost everyone has difficulty affording a caregiver. Many retirees who have no incomes are forced to pay for state health insurance just because they own a car or a house.

It’s time to sort things out and take a step forward.

To win votes by promoting wider welfare benefits, it is actually proper for a candidate to make the following pledges:

“I will withdraw the pledge of half-price tuition and also that of free school lunches.”

“The urgent tasks are helping the elderly, jobless, disabled, the ill and poor children.”

“Those urgent tasks require enormous amounts of money. And that money can only be raised by increasing taxes and pension and health insurance payments.”

“Until now, the government has operated the state pension, unemployment insurance and health care by collecting less and giving back less, but that has hit its limit. Without hurting our sovereign credit rating, everyone needs to pay more and the needy will get help.”

“The rich must pay more. And everyone needs to pay for such expenses, no matter how small an amount.”

“Insurance payments will be collected by the National Tax Service based on income levels.”

Why can’t we have such a candidate - whether he or she is conservative or liberal?

Is it because such pledges are not vote-getters? That insults the intelligence of our voters. A candidate must persuade the voters with plain language, direct ideas, and with sincerity. That is what a presidential candidate must do.

* The author is the editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Su-gil
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