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Tug of war over child care benefits

Posted November. 09, 2017 07:48,   

Updated November. 09, 2017 09:59


The government said in August that children aged under six would receive 90 dollars a month starting July next year. At meetings by the Health and Welfare Committee of the National Assembly running through this week, heated discussions between the ruling party members and their counterparts are taking place.

The ruling party says that the government’s program should be immediately approved in order to ease the burden of child-rearing, while the opposition parties’ members say that the benefits of the program seem uncertain and the amount of bonus should differ according to parents’ income. If the budget is cut due to the opposition parties’ disagreement, implementation of the program would be delayed from July.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare, which is to execute the program, says it needs to be considered in the perspective of “basic human rights for all children.” In other words, the program focuses more on universal welfare for children and investment to future generations instead of low birth rate.

“In order to enhance rights and interests of children with finite resources, we need to choose children in need and help them with appropriate services,” said Kim In-gyeong, a researcher at the Korea Development Institute.

The government has allocated about 1.34 billion dollars for 2018 in order to run the new childcare program. For the next five years, the program is estimated to cost 2.42 billion dollars per year on average (total of 12 billion dollars for the five years). The welfare ministry said it would try to promote fairness of the system in consideration of income level of families. For example, the child tax credit, which allows 134 dollars per child, will be abolished as it gives a bigger deduction for high-income families, while the low-income family child-rearing bonus (269-448 dollars per year) will continue.

At the same time, it has been criticized that coverage of the program overlaps with the current free childcare system. Currently, a maximum of 735 dollars a month is given as a bonus for a child in a daycare center. For a child at home, parents receive as much as 90–180 dollars a month.

“The free childcare system causes more money with less benefits, and parents are dissatisfied,” said Professor Kim Jin-soo of Social Welfare Department at Yonsei University. “The priority is to overhaul the overall childcare system.”

Youn-Jong Kim zozo@donga.com