Basic income guarantee gains political traction

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Basic income guarantee gains political traction


Introducing a basic income guarantee has become one of the much-debated policy issues among presidential hopefuls amid growing calls to create a welfare society.

The issue of adopting the state-provided income system, under which the government doles out payments to the people regardless of their income level or employment status, was first raised by Seongman Mayor Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party, who promises to distribute 1.3 million won ($1,136) a year for people under 29 and over 65.

Lee says 28 million people would be entitled to basic income, and that it would require 43.5 trillion won to implement the plan. Lee says he would raise the income tax rate for those making 1 billion won a year, whom he calls the “super-rich,” to 50 percent while raising the corporate tax from 22 to 30 percent for companies with more than 50 billion won in annual income.

Lee’s aggressive welfare policy was soon picked up by other politicians at a time when concerns are rising over the widening wealth gap and potential job losses due to dramatic changes in the industrial landscape caused by robot automatization.

Justice Party Chairwoman Sim Sang-jeung calls for providing people up to age five, from 19 to 24 and those over 60 with 100,000 won every month. She demands a law be adopted that would require the government to set aside at least 20 percent of all taxes collected for welfare policies.

Calls for the basic income are increasing as more people worry that their ability to climb the social ladder through education is eroding, and doubts concerning the fair distribution of wealth are increasing. In a survey by the Korea Institute for Public Administration of 8,000 adults nationwide, conducted in August and September, respondents were asked whether they think they could climb the social ladder and the average response was 2.4 on a scale of 0 to 4. This was the lowest score reported since the state-run institute began the survey in 2013, and is down from 2.6 in 2015.

Of the respondents, 10.1 percent replied they think their children would fail to move up the social ladder no matter how hard they try. When asked if they think the country’s wealth distribution system is fair, 68 percent said they did not, up from 64.6 percent in 2015.

Not everyone is endorsing the immediate introduction of basic income. The opposition stems from concerns that doling out such comprehensive benefits to everyone regardless of their conditions would inevitably weaken welfare support for those in dire need.

South Chungcheong Governor An Hee-jung, whose approval rating rose substantially over the past month to rank second just behind Moon Jae-in in a recent poll on this year’s presidential election, said providing such income to everyone would divert state funds currently designated for the vulnerable.

“Those in dire need could lose their benefits (under the universal income system),” said the governor last Thursday. The 51-year-old contender made clear his stance that welfare policy should be a selective one, not a universal one, and that it should be correlated to employment policy to encourage those unemployed covered by welfare benefits to actively seek jobs.

Frontrunner Moon Jae-in of the DP maintains that while he understands the need for such universal income benefits, welfare funds should at first be spent on helping those in need.

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