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Lack of Staff Hampering Delivery of Welfare Services

Posted February. 25, 2009 07:41,   


“I alone am responsible for more than 300 people on basic welfare. I also have an additional 100 households assigned to me for home visits for counseling by the end of this month, but I’ve visited only half of them. The government will reportedly be releasing more funds (for welfare programs), but we need more staff to handle this.”

A supervisor for social welfare services at a residents’ service center in Seoul has worked extra hours every day this month. “Kim” was given more assignments for tuition aid to low-income households ahead of the new semester, and received a flurry of requests for emergency living support amid the deepening economic crisis.

He said he visited 30 to 40 people for counseling per day until last year, but now visits 50 to 60.

As a host of new policies seek to help support low-income people, a serious bottleneck has hampered the delivery of welfare services.

Civil servants in charge of social welfare services at provincial governments, who serve as a bridge between the central government and the underprivileged, are being overworked. Recognizing the situation, the government is striving to improve the system for welfare service delivery but the solution will not come over the short term.

○ Bottleneck in welfare services

According to Rep. Won Hee-mok of the ruling Grand National Party, the types of social welfare, medical and health services provided by the Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Ministry reach 100 in number.

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry (scholarships), the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Ministry (rental homes), the Labor Ministry (employment support and unemployment insurance), and the Small and Medium Business Administration (support of small business owners) are among government agencies providing a variety of social welfare services.

Other welfare programs are being operated by city governments, including the “SOS Special Assistance for Homes in Jeopardy” by the Seoul city government.

As government agencies race to put forward impromptu policy measures and political circles add pork-barrel measures, experts say social welfare programs have turned extremely complicated, rendering it virtually impossible to control. Most of the programs’ budgets are implemented by a handful of civil servants in charge of social welfare services. According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, the number of civil servants in charge of practical social welfare service was 1.3 to 2.3 per resident service center in a village (eup, myeon or dong) in July last year.

If the government allocates most of its extra budget to supporting the livelihoods of low-income people while ignoring the sloppy welfare service, the budget will constantly leak though meant to support the poor.

○ Lack of oversight

Another problem is that few civil servants are fully aware of the purposes of social welfare services and their details. Civil servants responsible solely for social welfare services are few in number, and those assigned to general administrative work often take turns to provide such services for a year each.

A small number of staff holds too many responsibilities while wielding dominant power in paying subsidies. It is accordingly difficult to supervise or conduct oversight after providing services.

One civil servant misappropriated billions of won in welfare subsidies in Seoul’s Yangcheon district, and another official embezzled living subsidies for people on basic welfare in Busan. These were predictable incidents that resulted from a lack of post-service oversight.

For the government to conduct thorough oversight to ensure that subsidies got to people in definite need of help, experts urge calculation of beneficiaries’ income, assets and debts as an urgent task. To resolve this problem, the government is building an integrated network for social welfare services management, but this will not be operational until November.

Confusion will thus linger in social welfare administration for a considerable period of time.

President Lee Myung-bak has stressed since his inauguration that job creation is the best welfare policy. Welfare policy, however, continues to focus more on direct support, including payment of living expenses.

Another problem is the lack of connection between the work of the Health and Welfare Ministry, which supervises social assurance payments, and the Labor Ministry, which is in charge of employment policy.

An official at the Strategy and Finance Ministry said, “Welfare policies in advanced countries are directed toward the simultaneous advancement of welfare and employment programs.”

“The government is proactively considering measures to increase the efficiency of state support by combining the two areas.”

cha@donga.com leon@donga.com