Proposal doesn’t reflect realityThe government has been stressing the need to revise current guideline that sets 65 as the age when senior citizens become part of the dependent population. It argues that the current guideline does not make sense at a time when are living longer and healthier than ever before. It proposes raising the official retirement age to reflect that reality.
While its argument has some validity, it nevertheless is unrealistic and unacceptable. The proposal was included in the 30-year national strategy guideline mapped out after seven meetings and 30 separate discussions with experts.
First of all, the plan has not been thought out thoroughly in light of the potential confusion and side effects that raising the senior age guideline could cause. Apart from the fact that it will require a separate law, the government does not say when and how it plans to raise the qualifying senior age from 65 to 70 or 75. It is not clear whether the government means to revise the guideline incrementally or all at once in 30 years.
But the bottom line is that the plan could rob more than over 1.8 million Koreans in the 65 to 70 age group of all kinds of senior welfare benefits. What would happen to people over 65 and their families if the retirement age does not change accordingly and at the same time are no longer eligible for national pension and other senior age public benefits? One study showed that the average citizen of Seoul retires at 52.6. Can the society suddenly up the retirement age to over 65 within 30 years?
Secondly, the project is wrong to start with as it refers to the elderly or senior citizens as “dependent” or “beneficiary.” Regardless of age, the nation has the duty to support people who need care. There are children, teenagers and members of the younger generation who require public support and aid because of health or economic reasons. Of course, the number is greater among the elderly due to the natural aging process. It is the obligation of the country and society to care for the population in their ripe age. It doesn’t mean that all people require support once they reach a certain age considered as “old.” It is wrong and unreasonable to bundle the entire senior group as dependents.
The Korean Senior Citizens Association has been promoting a campaign since 2010 to urge senior citizens to be “responsible to society rather than depending on it.” The group runs training and lectures for senior leaders from across the nation at Canaan Farmland School, as well as a work network to foster millions of senior volunteers. It also has been active in finding jobs for senior citizens. The senior population is ready and willing to embrace their new stage of life now that people can live as long as 100.
The Health and Welfare Ministry also declared that it will change its paradigm on senior policy oriented toward citizens contributing to the society from those that require social support. But it goes against the trend to draw up a long-term policy defining senior citizens as dependents and welfare beneficiaries.
I do not oppose hiking the senior qualifying age in the longer run. But the change should be based on a perspective of senior citizens as valuable resources and part of the society rather than a group that demands massive budgetary support.
It will be appropriate to revise the senior guideline age upward once all people can actively contribute to Korean society through work and volunteering at least up to the age of 70.
*The writer is the chairman of the Korean Senior Citizens Association and former head of the Korea Magazine Association.
by Lee Sim