Create a welfare consensus

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Create a welfare consensus

Amid the hot controversy over how to revise the government-proposed basic pension plan, an argument for establishing a Korean-style welfare system as soon as possible is gaining momentum. At the 2013 Yumin Forum, co-sponsored by the JoongAng Ilbo, jTBC and the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, on Monday, experts from conservative and liberal camps had a heated debate on what is a desirable welfare model for us.

Both sides were poles apart in how they felt about our government’s welfare policies, as well as their perceptions of the level, scope and funding of welfare and the best solutions. That heralds stronger friction every time the welfare issue comes up. As chairman of the JoongAng Ilbo and jTBC, Dr. Hong Seok-hyun mentioned in the forum, “Without addressing the sharp discrepancy, it could likely divide our nation, rather than improve the quality of people’s lives.”

At the same time, the schism underscores the necessity to create our own welfare model. If the government fails to make the right decision, the welfare system could bring profound disaster to our future generations and to the fiscal health of the state. Moreover, there is a wide divide in people’s perceptions of the rising welfare demands and cost bearing, which suggests the possibility of social discontent and class conflict in the future. According to a survey conducted on Monday, most people want an enlarged welfare service, but they want big companies or rich people to pay for it. In other words, most citizens want welfare services to increase but don’t want to share the costs. That type of welfare system is not sustainable over the long haul, which is why we need to find a welfare model that fits us best.

In the debate, however, conservatives and liberals agreed on many issues. For instance, they thought we can build a Korean-type welfare model through rational discussions. Both sides also reached a consensus on the need to steadily expand welfare services, given the relatively low level of our current welfare. They also agreed that welfare is not free and the funds must be accumulated gradually, because they didn’t want the enlarged commitments to shake the government’s fiscal solidity or increase the national debt.

The debate provided an opportunity to think about our unique welfare model, instead of borrowing from other advanced countries. We propose the government set up a pan-national organization for discussions on how to create a national consensus on the issue.
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