It’s time to draw up some action plans

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It’s time to draw up some action plans

“Is free child care necessary?”

“Why not collect more tax from the rich?”

Over drinks and dinner, I’ve often been asked these questions. In the new year, I have discussed the year-end tax settlement controversy, free child care - including a series of day care abuse scandals - health insurance reform and civil servant pension reform, and many people have asked me what I think about these issues. Each time, I feel absurd. Being a correspondent for the Ministry of Health and Welfare doesn’t mean I have the answers to these questions. People often end up in arguments similar to ideological debates between progressives and conservatives, and conversation often leads to placing the blame on politics.

It’s impossible to satisfy every citizen. But in order to develop the nation as a community, we need to find a common denominator and set the direction. The JoongAng Ilbo recently conducted a survey of 1,000 citizens and 60 experts, the results of which were published in the Feb. 17 edition of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Sixty-two percent of ordinary respondents said that welfare should be expanded. Improving the birth rate (30 percent), assistance for the poor (23.3 percent) and making advance preparations for an aging society (22.8 percent) were among their highest priorities, as expected. But I found citizens’ attitudes on the tax hike rather surprising. More than half, 55.5 percent, said they are willing to pay more taxes for welfare to be improved. A survey by the Presidential Committee for National Cohesion showed similar results, in which 66 percent of respondents agreed to a tax increase for expanded welfare. Of course, some may change their position when the tax hike goes into effect. But now, it can be inferred that more than half of the country’s citizenry embraces a tax increase.

I don’t mean to say a tax hike is necessary, but I do want to emphasize that most Koreans are open to all possibilities to improve the national welfare system.

Poverty is also increasing and forcing many to give up on their lives. Korea’s low birth rate and its aging society are both potential future catastrophes. We know this, as well as that this is no time to calculate political interests.

Lawmakers must stop asking us to choose between expanded welfare and a tax increase. Like the tax hike, free school meals and free child care must be carefully considered. The authorities must listen carefully to what our citizens want and make an appropriate plan, set goals and then prioritize accordingly. This way, we won’t be passing on the burden to future generations.

The author is a national news writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 18, Page 21

by LEE ESTHER
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