A policy for seniors
Oct. 2 was the 18th celebration of Senior Citizens Day. In various events to mark the day, the ruling Saenuri Party and opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy pledged to exert efforts to enhance welfare for our older people, followed by the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s promise to stretch related budgets to 9 trillion won ($8.48 billion) next year, a whopping 38 percent increase compared to 2014. But the government’s promises can hardly meet the ever-expanding requirements for a better future for our aging population.
Korea is rapidly getting old. As people over the age of 65 now account for 12.7 percent of the entire population, the country is expected to join the ranks of elderly societies, in which older people account for 14 percent, in just four years. Our senior citizens face a stark reality where no policies are tailored for them. According to a report by a world-renowned senior citizens advocacy group in the United Kingdom, Korea ranked 50th among 96 countries in terms of welfare levels, which is even lower than Thailand, Sri Lanka and China.
On the level of incomes including pensions and other sources, Korea ranked 80th.
A foreign media outlet even commented that Korea needs a national discussion on how to address senior citizens’ poverty and review the appropriateness of pension payments.
A bigger problem is that welfare is not enough due to the rapidly increasing crime rate among senior citizens, not to mention a growing fiscal burden on the government.
Korean senior citizens tend to commit a higher rate of violent crimes such as homicide, sexual violence, arson and burglary than in other countries. A rapid increase in sexual offenses coupled with sexual alienation also poses a serious threat to our society. With the issue of isolation at the root of the crimes, they can lead to solitary deaths or joint suicide of spouses. In most of the cases, senior citizens are perpetrators as well as victims due to a critical lack of relevant programs to avert them.
As older people take up nearly 30 percent of the nation’s health insurance - and as senior citizens increasingly have to take care of their partners - a long shadow is cast over the aging population. With Korea’s proud respect for the elderly long gone, and with such values turning into an obstacle to confronting their problems, we must refocus our policies toward the older generation. It is time to kick off a national campaign to find answers. If we delay, it could be a national disaster for the sustainable development of our society.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 3, Page 30