Strengthen the safety net

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Strengthen the safety net

Since last April, Bukbu Hospital in northeast Seoul has been running inventive programs combining public health with medical and social welfare services and delivering them to the doors of the needy. It joined with the local administration, clinics, community centers and social welfare facilities to make home visits and help patients in poor neighborhoods get adequate health services. It also coordinates and seeks social benefits on behalf of the patients living in deprivation. Five social workers are permanently stationed at the hospital.

“There are many poor people who aren’t eligible for state subsidies in our neighborhood,” said Kwon Yong-jin, chief director of the hospital.

Kwon said that these people, who live mostly on temporary menial labor jobs, can lose work or income when they fall ill or get injured. The public hospital and its welfare care aims to deliver health care and social assistance to prevent them from falling into extreme poverty.

As of 2010, there were about 1.17 million people at the bottom of the poverty scale who could not get any help from the government because of the income and assets of their legal supporting family members. They are mostly independent people making a meager living off low-wage, part-time jobs. But they can easily become dead poor from accidents or illness. A woman and her two grown daughters recently committed suicide at home because they could no longer support themselves. The mother had been the breadwinner for the family, but was weighed down with debt from the lengthy hospitalization of her father, who died. The elder daughter could not work because of a chronic illness. Then the mother hurt herself and could no longer work. The family was not eligible for state assistance because the daughters were listed as being responsible for supporting the mother. They might still be alive today if they had known about Bukbu Hospital.

The tragic story of these three women raised awareness of poverty and the inadequacy of our social security network. What the poor need is eased guidelines on supporting families, fast financial aid and immediate health and medical care. The government and politicians pledged to seek out the needy and improve welfare delivery services. The government must prioritize policies and expedite actions to quickly strengthen and widen the social safety net to save as many lives as possible. Time cannot be lost.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 26, Page 30

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