Young, single Koreans call out 'unfair' relief grant rules
Young, single Koreans say that the government's latest round of Covid-19 relief payments unfairly discriminates against unmarried people with an unreasonably low cut off point for grant eligibility.
The controversy surrounding the nationwide grants came after the National Assembly passed a supplementary budget of 34.9 trillion won ($30.3 billion), 11 trillion won of which will be used for the expansive relief fund.
All individuals in the country except for the top 12 percent income bracket will receive a one-off payment of 250,000 won ($217).
But the income ceiling for single-person households is set much lower than multi-person households, which reduces the chance of people qualifying for aid.
A person who lives alone will be entitled to receive the payment if their annual income is less than 50 million won, while the standard is 66.7 million won for two-person households with a single income earner. The threshold for a family of three is set at 86 million won and 100 million won for four-member households.
As single-person households include elderly people living alone and young unmarried professionals, the disparity in income is significant. But this means that single people in their 20s and 30s are excluded from the list of beneficiaries while their married counterparts are eligible.
“It is not that I’m not married because I don’t want to be,” said a 36-year-old man living in Suwon, Gyeonggi. “I was forced to delay marriage because of the housing issue. But it's unfair that I’m not going to receive the fund even when my friends whose income level is similar to me or higher will get it."
A 38-year-old woman who only gave her surname as Choi also won’t benefit from the provision.
“I’ve recently moved into a studio apartment with a single room because I feel pressured to save more to make lump sum payments for my office place,” said Choi whose new house comes with monthly fees of 450,000 won.
“I know I could be considered to be earning a relatively high income, but I feel frustrated about being excluded from the benefits while I live in a small house that only measures 8 pyeong (285 square foot),” she said.
She said it was unfair to compare her situation to that of married people.
“I didn’t intend to not be married, but the government decision makes me sad for remaining single,” she said, “Many of my friends who married early significantly increased their wealth by buying houses on loans when the housing prices were still lower.”
The government is scrambling to narrow down the beneficiaries by adding more criteria.
It has proposed that a household that owns a property valued at more than 2.1 billion won or has financial income of more than 20 million is excluded from the relief grants.
Experts say that controversy is inevitable.
“If the government focused on people with disadvantages or who run businesses directly impacted by the pandemic, the criticism might not be as severe,” said Kang Sung-jin, an economics professor at Korea University. “The pandemic relief fund caused tension in society to increase as the government tries to cover nearly everybody."
BY PARK EUN-JEE, JEONG JIN-HO [firstname.lastname@example.org]