New thinking on welfare

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New thinking on welfare

A blueprint for a welfare system for Korea was arrived at through the JoongAng Ilbo’s survey of 1,000 citizens across the country and 60 welfare experts. The results attract our attention amid the ongoing controversy over tax increases and welfare restructuring. The government must determine its priorities in using limited financial resources, of course. The survey can help it find its way.

Both the general public and the experts prioritized support for poor people in the welfare’s system’s blind spots, who badly need help but don’t qualify currently. The next priority, they said, was help for raising infants and children. The basic pension for senior citizens and free lunches for primary, middle and high school students did not rank very high on the priority list. Both ordinary citizens and experts also cited the need to use welfare to help raise Korea’s plummeting birth rates and reduce poverty.

Welfare services for the poor took a back seat to other forms of universal welfare in the past few years, such as free school lunches. As a result, support for the underprivileged has not increased in proportion to the doubling of the welfare budget over the last decade. For instance, subsidies for the poor stood at merely 20 trillion won ($18 billion).

Both members of the general public and experts worried about the low birth rate of Korea - 1.19 child per family as of 2014 - and believed welfare must be allocated to help. Rather than the government offering free day care for all, they wanted expansion of public day care and more qualified caregivers so as to raise the quality of day care services.

Our welfare has not met the standards of the people because politicians abuse the issue for election campaigns. Free welfare promises snowballed in every election. But political circles are now busy fighting over the need for tax hikes to pay for all that extra welfare. This is how politicians work.

It’s time to confront the basic realities. Survey respondents recommended the curtailment of free school lunches above all. The next category of benefits they wanted reduced was free day care for all kids and basic pensions. The general public wanted people in the top 30 percent income bracket to be excluded from getting any welfare, while the experts wanted to expand the exclusion level to the top 50 percent. If implemented, the idea could save 7 trillion to 12 trillion won ($6.3 billion to $10.8 billion), and the money could be used to ease poverty and raise our birth rates. It’s time for experts, labor unions and civic groups to find effective ways to fund and spend our welfare dollars. 

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 18, Page 34

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