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Welfare Policies for Low-income Households

Posted September. 18, 2010 14:14,   


Students at specialized high schools from next year will get annual tuition support of 1.2 million won (1,035 U.S. dollars) per capita. Those from poor households who account for 40 percent of the student body are exempt from tuition. This will allow students who cannot afford tuition to get an education. Given that education is the best way to lift people out of poverty, government financial support for specialized high schools will help those from low-income households to climb the social ladder.

If such schools attract talent, the workforce necessary for national development can be nurtured. If graduates begin landing well-paying jobs, this will contribute to lessening high unemployment among college graduates by reducing the number of high school students going to college. This measure will give more substantial benefits to children from low-income households than free school meals, which also benefit students from middle and high-income households.

For the three major tasks of expansion of free education, tuition support for specialized high schools, and additional assistance to multicultural households, the government will inject 3.7 trillion won (3.2 billion U.S. dollars) next year. Fears are rising, however, that public welfare spending will grow faster than government expenditures. Social integration policies to raise the low birth rate and help the underprivileged, however, are necessary despite causing budget cuts in other areas.

Expanding the beneficiaries of free childcare to 70 percent of households should be considered an investment for national survival, not expenditures. Given that measures centered on low-income households to increase the birth rate have failed to produce results, the creation of an environment that provides family and work balance is the key to resolving the low birth rate. When the government establishes systems that help households raise children, mothers will be willing to have babies. Also welcome is the expansion of beneficiaries of childcare support to dual-income families with up to six million won (5,175 dollars) in monthly income. Korea should learn a clear lesson from the experiences of European countries and Japan, two regions which suffered slower economic growth due to low birth rates.

Seoul, however, should guard against excessive support that discourages the willingness to work as seen in the case of Europe. The Korean government should also be careful not to waste budget without giving substantial help to beneficiaries. Given that the welfare budget will be hard to cut once raised, the government needs to move prudently from the introduction stage. All welfare policies should not be criticized as populist measures. Policies that enable women to bear children without burden and help teenagers from poor households stand on their own two feet are prerequisites for a sustainable society.