Reexamine the welfare information system

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Reexamine the welfare information system

A family of three — a mother in her 60s and two daughters in their 40s — received no social benefits while living in a tiny one-room apartment in Suwon city without any income and eventually chose to end their lives. They had not sought basic allowance or applied for any benefits from the government. They might not have known if they were eligible for social welfare services. If administrative aid had been more proactive, the tragedy could have been prevented.

It turned out that they did not register when they moved into a tiny home in Suwon paying 420,000 won ($313) in monthly rent and a deposit of 3 million won. A social worker had paid a visit to their previous home in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi, as they had not paid for their medical insurance for 16 months. But the social worker did not press ahead after finding they were not living there.

The three would have been eligible to receive 1.2 million won in monthly emergency aid, medical expenses and housing subsidies. After the suicide of a mother and her two daughters in Seoul in 2014, the government introduced a social security system where emergency livelihood funding is doled out when some 34 types of utilities and other public service bills are overdue for more than three months. The electronic system checking overdue utility bills was adopted to discover the hardships of unreported households.

Yet the system had loopholes as underscored by the same tragic death. The family could have been saved through emergency aid. But the Hwaseong city classified the family as “being ineligible for welfare services” after failing to track their whereabouts. Upon learning of their tragic deaths, President Yoon Suk-yeol told reporters that immediate actions will be taken to make up for the loopholes in the electronic welfare system. The presidential office said that each government office will work to activate timely and proactive welfare services for needy households. Under the current system, welfare benefits must be filed by individuals themselves to prove their dire living conditions. The government must set up systems to track the whereabouts of troubled families when they disappear.

As many hard-up and debt-ridden people can move without reporting their whereabouts, there should be a system to discover a number of households in serious trouble. A civilian volunteer system could be used to find them as neighbors would know best of the difficulties of community members. The welfare administration must also be reexamined so as not to scare off people in need.
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