Up the welfare workforce

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Up the welfare workforce

“Social welfare” has become a buzzword across Korean society. In her inaugural address, President Park Geun-hye stressed that one of the top policy priorities of the new government will be to design entitlement programs tailored for different groups of people. Such work, however, demands a number of extra hands. The government creates policies, but those policies are administered by social workers in the related offices. Welfare programs are drafted by various ministries and agencies, but at the end of the day, the workers on the ground need to hand out the benefits to the needy.

The problem is that civil servants on the frontline are increasingly overloaded with work due to the sudden outpouring of new welfare programs. They have to gather and keep data on citizens entitled to basic living allowances and also deal with various additional affairs related to the new programs such as government subsidies for day care centers. They also have to look after different services for minors, seniors and disabled citizens as well as new subsidies for high school tuitions.

The workload will naturally grow because of the new demands. But when it reaches an overwhelming level, there will be problems with many necessary services. For instance, help may not reach the needy in a timely manner, and the standard of public service could worsen, at great inconvenience to the public.

The government admits that it’s short on manpower and it plans to add 7,000 more civil workers by 2014 to the 10,581 on the job as of the end of 2011. But the growth in the workforce cannot meet the increase in the workload. The government would have to quickly increase the human resources available to the welfare department. But an increase beyond quotas could backfire. Authorities should re-examine the overall workload first and assign those who have less to do to the welfare services.

The underprivileged will be those hurt the most by the manpower shortage in entitlement programs. The best way for the new president and government to fulfill their welfare promises is to ensure that the right kind of people receive the right kind of benefits at the right time.

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