Keynote Speech of Policy Expo
Date April 7th, 2015 | Venue Main Conference Room, National Assembly Member’s Office
It is a great pleasure to be here today. Cherry blossoms have embroidered the streets in a splendid light pink, and Yeouido is filled with crowds enjoying the flowers. I regret to tell you, however, some dark realities, inconvenient truths of our times.
In February last year, a mother and two daughters in Songpa-gu left leaving a heartbreaking note saying, “I am so sorry.” Along with the note was 700 thousand won. In October of the same year, a senior citizen who had been living alone in Dongdaemun-gu was faced with eviction and took his own life, leaving an envelope with a note saying, “Thank you. Help yourself to a warm meal.” Also in the envelope was 100 thousand won. Last March, a citizen in Ansan who had been suffering from hardships of life committed suicide using charcoal. Last week, a resident in Yeongdeungpo-gu set his own place on fire and threw himself off the roof because he could not afford rent for 5 months.
According to 2013 statistics announced by Statistics Korea, 39.5 people kill themselves every day. That means about two people commit suicide every hour. In 2013, 14,427 people took their own lives due to poverty and hardship in a year. A few days ago in Yemen, approximately 500 people passed away in the civil war. 28 times as many people as the casualties in the civil war are dying of suicide in this land. Everyone, we are living in a war, a situation of dire crisis. If this is not a war or crisis, how could this many people die?
Population decrease is set to be another pain in our future. The birth rate is currently 1.2 persons, one of the lowest in the world, and the ageing population will reach 40% in 50 years. A super ageing society, where 1.2 productive people must provide for one senior citizen, is right in front of our eyes.
What about our working hours? Our working hours are the longest among OECD nations, but the productivity is only 23rd. We are becoming the archetype of a fatigued society, where you work long and hard but your productivity decreases and you cannot even take a rest properly. People are instead becoming more and more fatigued.
Growth has come to a halt and social tension is increasing. The per capita income has remained around 20 thousand dollars over the last ten years, and our gross national happiness (GNH) is extremely low. As poverty and inequality is passed on from generation to generation, blocking the way to a higher position, the youth have lost their hope and society is moving towards greater insecurity. What is to become of our creative economy and national unity in these circumstances?
Distinguished citizens, poverty and inequality are never the responsibility of one individual. They should never be laid on individuals but instead resolved together. Politicians should take the lead in resolving this problem without retreating from this battlefield.
There are many different ways to address this enormous challenge, but the fundamental solution is very simple: welfare. Welfare is the way to relieve poverty, inequality, and polarization in our times. It raises the happiness index and creates jobs. It allows us composure and self-examination and creates conditions of imagination and creation. It reduces conflicts and fosters unity.
Look at all the developed, rich countries! Not one of them became rich without welfare. No country has grown and become happy without welfare. Look at the countries in Northern Europe! Look at Germany and France! Look at most OECD countries! The key word of their strategy to maintain the power of continuous economic growth and raise the people’s happiness index is welfare.
The solution is right here. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is establishing a model of a virtuous circle. It is improving the quality of citizens’ lives and the city’s competitiveness by investing in welfare. Citizens are happy and the city is moving forward to globalization and the future.
Since taking office, I have made it clear that I will be the mayor of a “welfare metropolitan government” that changes citizens’ lives. After 4 years, the welfare budget of Seoul in 2015 accounts for 34.3% (78 hundred billion won) of the total budget of the city. Compared to 2002, the amount has increased by 6.3 times, and the ratio by 2.9 times. An increase in the welfare budget is not only improving quality of citizens’ lives, but is also serving as a valuable foundation for the qualitative growth of Seoul. It has been proven that welfare expenditures directly induce production and added value and create a significant amount of jobs.
Take a look at the research report “the Social and Economic Effects of Social Welfare Expenditures” published by Seoul Institute in December, 2013. In 2013, the government spent 628.5 billion won on social welfare. As a result, it induced production of 1,411.2 billion won, twice the expenditures, and created 154 thousand jobs.
It has been proven that welfare is not a free service or a waste but the way to vitalize our economy, serve as a base for growth, and improve our quality of life. It ended up increasing productivity directly and indirectly, and also created jobs. Do you still think welfare is a waste and a loss?
Welfare is an investment in people, the future, and sustainable communities. Having started the voyage towards a welfare metropolitan government, Seoul has positively changed citizens’ lives over the last three years.
In November 2011, I began my term by signing a plan for environment-friendly free school meals under the principle of making our children feel economic equality rather than the discrimination of the world of adults with a meal. Free meal support expanded to elementary and middle schools from 198,000 students in 2011 to 729,000 students last year to provide them with free, healthy, and environmentally-friendly meals. Meals are not only to satisfy our hunger. Having a meal together at the table is a real learning experience and builds community. It is the biggest learning of all learning experiences. Is this a waste and a loss?
What about half tuitions, which we started for the first time in our country? Fatally high tuition fees of universities, which were back-breaking for parents and left the students in debt, forced the students to work part-time, hampering their right to learn. As a result of half tuition, the popularity of the University of Seoul has increased. The number of excellent students has increased, and the university took a leap toward becoming a leading university. The policy led to a decrease in the average tuition fees of 186 universities across the country. Students with a lighter burden of tuition fees have contributed to local communities through talent donations and have gone to foreign countries to study or for working holidays to pioneer their own future. Is this a waste and a loss?
“The Seoul Citizen Welfare Standards”, which should be enjoyed by every citizen without discrimination, are the nation’s first welfare standards for citizens created by citizens. To practice the standards, Seoul is implementing 102 projects, one of which, the Seoul Basic Security System, is a policy for the citizens suffering in the dead zone of welfare overlooked by the national government. The system supported 55 thousand of the poor who had not received any welfare services and might have suffered in the same way as the mother and daughters in Songpa-gu for one year and six months. The Seoul Basic Security System was a lifeline that saved them. Is this a waste and a loss?
As the government changed temporary positions into permanent positions, Lee Gyeong-ja, who had been working as a temporary service employee in Seoul City Hall, has become a regular employee, something she has always wanted. She shed tears when she got her ID as an associate civil servant. 7,000 employees of Seoul Government tasted the same joy as Lee Gyeong-ja. Is this a waste and a loss?
Lee Jeong-ja, who had suffered from a stroke, found a hope for a new life in the Patient Relief Hospital in Seoul Medical Center, which was implemented as the first of its kind in the country. During her long-term hospitalization in a regular hospital, she could not afford the cost of hiring a nurse, a cost reaching two million won per month, and so she could not be offered proper treatment. Since moving to the Patient Relief Hospital, she got her health, life, and hope back. For the last two years, approximately 195,400 citizens have received the benefits of the public medical service of Seoul City. Is this a waste and a loss?
The Half emergency treatment cost and half funeral expenses of Seoul Medical Center is a system through which you can get treatment first even if you don’t have money now and wish to instead pay for it in installments according to your financial situation. This has opened the door to a Seoul where nobody can be refused proper medical treatment due to a lack of money. Is this a waste and a loss?
Seoul is strengthening the public nature of childcare under the principle that it takes a nation to raise a child. Currently the ratio of national and public childcare centers is only 5%. How can we raise the birth rate in this situation? For the last three years, Seoul has secured 296 national and public childcare centers, aiming for 1,000 centers as its goal. Is this a waste and a loss?
The city is actively preparing for an ageing society. For elderly citizens (aged 50-64), who will reach 11 million in Korea, and 2 out of 10 Seoul citizens, it is establishing 50+ Campuses and Second Life Support Centers where jobs, welfare, and learning are integrated all over Seoul. Preemptive investment in preparation for an aged society will reduce a significant amount of social expenses to come. Is this a waste and a loss?
All-day services for the severely handicapped who cannot even move by themselves, who can not help burning to death in a fire, without anyone taking care of them, is this a waste and a loss? Offering 3-day family trips to those who take care of the handicapped or senior citizens without any chance to go on a family trip, is this waste and a loss? Assigning practitioners to children from birth to the age of 12 so they can get examinations at every turning point in development to check and manage their health conditions, is this a waste and a loss? I think what we need the most in the 21st century is food, clothing, and shelter, or medical services, meals, and houses. Medical services that examine citizens’ health must especially be supported by the nation or government. Despite a deficit of 70 billion won, Seoul City operates 13 municipal hospitals to guarantees health rights for the poor and suffering. Is this a waste and a loss?
I want to ask those who say that financial limitations hinder the implementation of welfare. A Whopping 22 trillion won of the budget was put into the Four River Project, digging up the riverbeds. Restoration of it will cost 86 trillion won. For 22 trillion won, we can 110 thousand newly married couples an apartment of 2 hundred million won for free. We can change all the daycare centers across the country into national and public daycare centers, and we can give 5 million senior citizens over 65 years old 360 thousand won a month stipend for a year, and we would have more remaining. If the Four River project is not a waste and a loss, what is?
Some argue that welfare expansion will weaken financial soundness and ruin the country. But then, take the example of Seoul. Even though it increased the welfare budget, its debt has been reduced by 7,500 billion won over the last three years, and an additional 80 thousand public rental houses have been built.
The city’s competitiveness index is ranked the sixth in the world, and it is ranked within the top 10 up-and-rising financial cities. Foreign tourists reached 1.2 million, and it is the fourth city in MICE city rankings, the ultimate tourism assessment. It was assessed as the best city to have a business meeting. Seoul is improving the welfare, quality of life, and happiness index for citizens while continuously enhancing city competitiveness as a global city. Seoul is showing this not with words but with actions.
Changes have just begun. Seoul would like to shift the paradigm of welfare through administration reform and innovation of the welfare delivery system. We will renovate the local communication centers, which used to be workplaces for civil servants, into places for communication of residents, so that community centers reach out to citizens, instead of citizens having to reach out to community centers.
Seoul will also become a pioneer of welfare. This July we will start to provide outreach universal welfare services for children from infancy to the age of 2, and senior citizens between the ages of 65-70 for the first time in Korea. Beyond the existing welfare paradigm where only the poor who come to the public institutions are given assistance, the new universal welfare service will come to any citizen standing in a turning point of life, in company with them and supporting them.
Seoul will continue to change citizens’ lives, improving their quality of life, and establishing an even stronger welfare system. Based on this, we will proceed towards a happier city. This will be the dream of Seoul, “the city of happy people.”
Distinguished citizens. Former prime minister of Sweden Hans Göran Persson, who designed the international welfare state model, has suggested 10 qualifications of a welfare state. One of them is that universal welfare covering all the people is laid on the national government, not on local governments. Unfortunately, the Korean government is laying universal welfare, such as free education and a basic pension covering all the people, onto local governments. Who is paying for free childcare? Even for Seoul, the Seoul Government is paying for 65% of free childcare. Still, the Korean Government is claiming that they are leading free childcare. Is this truly welfare? Human dignity and happiness are not something the national government and local governments can disagree on or delay.
However, for national undertakings, the national government should bear a bigger sense of responsibility and shoulder more of the burden. The national government should handle universal welfare programs such as free education and childcare and a basic pension for the whole nation. Meanwhile, local governments should execute welfare that takes care of every corner of citizens’ lives with careful concern, which the national government can easily overlook. In this way, true local autonomy will be achieved, and citizens’ lives will be changed for the better. Once citizens are happy, the cities will be truly happy. Once the cities are happy, the whole country will become happy.
Welfare is not an option; it is a duty. It is not an ideal; it is a reality. To lead our society beyond industrialization and democratization to a new era, we need new imagination and a new great shift of values. We need to seek a sustainable way to maintain human dignity and existence, to realize humane lives, and to live happily together. I think welfare is at the center of all of these things.
As everybody is given a chance in their lives, everybody shares crises as well. The poor can become middle-class, and the middle class can become the poor. Welfare is the minimum social safety net that will give chances and take the hand of those in crisis. Welfare is a social responsibility, the bastion of trust and solidarity strengthening a sense of belonging and solidarity.
Meals that consistently remind children of their parents’ poverty make them feel inferior and humiliated. It leaves them, as human beings with human dignity, with indelible wounds, and eventually destroys social trust and solidarity of unity.
With this in mind, the phenomenon in South Gyeongsang Province is truly shameful. How could you tell your children to skip meals and just study? Welfare must never be abused for elections or politics. Welfare must never be abused for an election, for someone’s political position. Welfare is a precious asset that should be invested in with pure intentions for human dignity, overcoming discrimination and poverty, and citizens’ happiness.
Most importantly, welfare is not dispensation. At the end of the day, free school meals are a reflection of a philosophy towards other human beings. Because human rights, rights every human being should naturally enjoy, allowing them to live a humane life, are universal, welfare for human beings should also be universal. Because childcare and education are rights every human being should enjoy, nobody should be discriminated against in respect of their meals and books. To practice a “democracy of meals” is to practice true democracy.
Last year, the OECD and IMF showed a complete change of mindset, announcing that “inequality is a setback of economic growth.” Likewise, we now have to achieve a complete change of mindset as well. Welfare is not waste or loss or dispensation. Welfare is an investment in people and the future. We will have to achieve new growth and a creative economy and share the fruits of welfare.
Welfare is therefore economy, growth, distribution, democracy, and human rights.
It is about time for us to prepare a platform for public discussion through more fundamental and in-depth insights about why we have to proceed towards a welfare state. The discourse of “welfare-based growth” will no doubt come up as a pressing social agenda. Thank you very much.