Answer to welfare lies in the field
A 72-year-old woman in Incheon lives with her 17-year-old grandson, who has an intellectual disability. The only income the family has is the basic 200,000 won ($183.25) pension the grandmother receives each month. She applied for the basic living subsidies benefit, but her application was denied. The woman has a son and a daughter on her family registration record, but she hasn’t heard from them in a long time.
Nearly 1.85 million people, just like her, are caught between the working class and extreme poverty. What will happen if the government reinforces the welfare standard or applies it more strictly to crack down on illegal recipients?
I grew increasingly anxious after the government announced its comprehensive welfare restructuring plan. By screening illegal recipients and integrating redundant or similar programs, the prime minister hopes to save 3 trillion won this year. Now that the welfare budget has grown dramatically, we welcome the move to overhaul its content and efficiency.
However, after talking to civil servants tasked with overseeing welfare programs and social workers, I believe a strict restructuring based on principles and standards can only backfire. A civil servant working in welfare at a district office in Seoul said he was concerned that when the government set a goal, it will allocate local administrative agencies a certain portion and urge them to make it work.
Social workers say that if the authorities focus on finding illegal recipients, helping those in the welfare blind spot would lose priority. They hoped it would be a mistake not to care for the sufferings of the neighbors while being caught up in finding illegal recipients.
After all, successful welfare restructuring must be bolstered by efforts to listen to the voices in the field. Efforts to embrace the poor who are overlooked should be made by giving more discretionary power to welfare-related civil servants.
Moreover, the central government should listen to those at local administrative offices. A 1.3 trillion won target cannot be modified without the cooperation of local administration directors and local education superintendents.
The government called out Yeonggwang in South Jeolla as an example of redundant and excessive welfare, which a local official later refuted. “The government doesn’t care about the fact that the county has a high population of low-income seniors and only pushes us to save,” he lamented.
The authorities need to listen to what those in the field have to say and seek solutions together.
The author is a national news writer
for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 3, Page 33
by LEE ESTHER