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[2012] Mayor’s Speech

  • A people-centered Seoul, a city where life is good.

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    Announcement of the Seoul Citizen Welfare Standard

    Date: October 22, 2012
    Venue: Briefing Room, Seoul City Hall

    Kim Myung-soo, chairman of the Seoul Metropolitan Council, Professor Kim Yeon-myeong, who unfortunately could not join us today, and members of the Seoul Welfare Standard Committee, I thank you for your hard work and commitment. Today, I would like to hereby announce the Seoul Welfare Standard, a culmination of the efforts made by experts, public servants, and Seoul citizens over a period of nine months.

    Not long after I came into office, I received a letter from one of our citizens. He was a person with a disability and a beneficiary of the basic livelihood allowance. One day he was notified that because his daughter’s income had increased, his basic livelihood allowance had to be cut, even though he had lost touch with his daughter. So, he asked for help. As I read his letter, I realized something was very wrong. When I discovered that there were more people who had been denied this allowance for similar reasons than there were those actually receiving the benefits, I decided that it was time for me honor one of my mayoral campaign pledges–to pursue the establishment of a welfare standard for the citizens of Seoul.

    Korea has developed and advanced remarkably over the years. In terms of economic prowess, it is now ranked 15th in the world.

    But what about the quality of life of our people? Among the 34 OECD member countries, Korea ranks the first in poverty among the elderly, and has the highest suicide rate and the lowest fertility rate. This is indeed a shameful record. The reason for this poor state of affairs is that, until now, we had been so focused on investing in national development that we neglected to invest in the lives of our citizens.

    Life for Seoul’s citizens is particularly hard. The prices in this city are higher than in other cities. The cost of housing is more than double that of other cities, and our education costs are extremely high. However, the minimum livelihood expense–a criterion established based on small and medium-sized cities–is applied to Seoul without exception. Additionally, the stark differences in the minimum cost of living among the various districts in Seoul further exasperate this issue.

    What is worse is that the lives of our citizens are becoming even more difficult. The middle class is collapsing, the number of people living in poverty is increasing, and as a result, the quality of life of our citizens continues to fall.

    This is why we need a welfare standard for Seoul. We must establish a welfare standard that takes into account the particular characteristics of this city, and we must increase investment in welfare, and in our people, in order to make this possible. In Tokyo, Japan, the “Civil Minimum” welfare standard was set up way back in the 1960s, and in London, U.K., the “London Plan” is already in place, raising the quality of life of its citizens.

    The Seoul Citizen Welfare Standard is a set of criteria that determines the level of welfare citizens have the right to enjoy, and therefore, it is crucial that we achieve social consensus on it. To this end, we set up a committee composed of experts and citizen representatives, and made important decisions regarding this policy, such as determining the contents of the standard. Building on this, research groups comprised of experts in various fields pooled their efforts to establish a welfare standard, and the public servants at the Seoul Metropolitan Government reviewed and used the proposal to develop sensible policies. Of particular importance, the citizens took part in this lengthy process in various ways, including participation in the Listening Policy Workshops, the 1,000 Person Roundtable, and the Seoul Welfare Meari Group.

    The Seoul Citizen Welfare Standard, which was initiated in February, incorporated the draft proposal devised by the research groups as well as the opinions of citizens gathered through the Listening Policy Workshops and the 1,000 Person Roundtable. After nine months of hard work and a budgetary review, we are now able to present it to you.

    Comprising 102 projects, the Seoul Welfare Standard is a set of criteria regarding the minimum level of welfare and quality of life that all citizens have the right to enjoy. It will act as our welfare charter and guideline in elevating the quality of our citizens’ lives in five major areas: income, housing, care, health, and education.

    I would now like to offer some explanation of the Welfare Standard in each sector and the details of our projects.

    The first area I would like to mention is income. We defined the “minimum level” as “guaranteeing the minimum livelihood expenses for the citizens of Seoul” and the “appropriate level” as “ensuring the citizen’s income is higher than 50 percent of the median income, which is —the international poverty line”.

    In order to achieve the welfare standard in terms of income, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will carry out various projects. We will adopt the Seoul-type Basic Livelihood Security System, which will relax the central government’s criteria on persons with the obligation to provide support as well as the income and property criteria, thereby providing the equivalent of one half of the benefits paid to basic livelihood beneficiaries, an equal amount of education, and dissolution and funeral allowances for 190,000 people living in poverty. We are planning to invest KRW 41.0 billion next year to achieve this. In addition, as jobs constitute the best type of welfare for the people, by 2018, we will provide job opportunities for 6,000 people whose income is lower than the minimum livelihood expenses of Seoul (which is 116 percent that of other cities), so that they may support themselves. We will also create an additional 25,000 jobs for youth, 27,000 jobs for women, and 100,000 jobs for the elderly. Furthermore, once the Seoul-type Basic Livelihood Security System is in place, any citizens without income who were denied benefits because of their children’s income will receive a monthly livelihood allowance, providing them a little extra help in their daily lives.

    The greatest source of anxiety for most Seoul citizens is housing. I heard that the proportion of the income spent on rent by citizens in the lowest 20 percent income bracket is as high as 41.9 percent. If citizens have to spend half of their income on rent, how can they cover the rest of their expenses for the month? This is very worrying. Therefore, we have established the minimum level of living based on the premise that “rent must be less than 30 percent of income, and the quality of housing must be higher than the national minimum housing level”. We also established an appropriate level of living based on the idea that “rent must be less than 25 percent of income, and living space for a four-member household must be larger than 54 square meters”. To realize these goals, we will increase the number of public rental housing units to 10 percent of available housing, and by providing income subsidies via housing vouchers, we will help to significantly relieve the burden of rent on low-income households by 2020. Furthermore, we will provide special homes for the rapidly increasing senior population and the many citizens with disabilities, comprising a combination of housing and public services. From 2014, we will supply 300 such houses every year, increasing the number to 1,500 by 2018. We hope those living in semi-basement rooms and people who cannot afford heating during the winter will take heart and be encouraged by this news.

    Korea has the lowest fertility rate among OECD countries, but the fertility rate in Seoul is the lowest among all local autonomies in this country.

    Why don’t people want to have children? The answer is simple. It is because of the considerable difficulty involved in raising them here. National and public daycare centers make up a mere 10.8 percent of the daycare centers in Seoul, and applicants normally wait one to three years to get their children admitted. As for the elderly and people with disabilities in Seoul, a considerable number of them fall into grey areas, leaving them with no access to the care services they need.

    For these citizens, the minimum level has been established to provide them with “access to care services at a cost within 10 percent of household income,” while the appropriate level provides “access to care services within ten minutes from home”. In order to achieve these two levels, we plan to assign more than two national and public daycare centers in each dong administrative unit. We will also ease the financial burden posed by daycare services by having local districts decrease the daycare cost paid by users to less than 50 percent of the total cost, and improve the quality and quantity of care services for babies and small children.

    We will provide assistance for the elderly in the form of long-term nursing insurance and elderly care services for those living on less than the minimum livelihood expense but who have been denied government assistance. We will also provide personal assistant services to citizens with Grade 1 disabilities who were deemed ineligible for government-provided personal assistant services, as well as to citizens with severe Grade 2 disabilities. I hope that these efforts allow citizens with limited mobility who could not receive personal assistant services to now enjoy more activities in their lives, such as going to Daehak-ro to watch a play.

    The proportion of Seoul citizens who have been denied much-needed medical treatment for financial reasons has reached 18.1 percent, and the public health gap between different districts continues to widen. In an effort to resolve this situation, we established the minimum level with the goal of providing necessary medical services to all citizens, while the appropriate level was set to enhance overall public health and narrow the health gap among the districts of Seoul.

    To realize these goals, we will set up community health centers that can be accessed within ten minutes from the homes of all citizens and remove any healthcare blind spots by strengthening the public health system. In addition, starting next year, we will operate a pilot project called the Patient Relief Hospital at the Seoul Medical Center. The Patient Relief Hospital will offer free nursing services to patients that require hospitalization but whose families are unable to care for them. By 2014, we will operate 100 medical centers 24 hours a day, every day, even on holidays, ensuring that medical services are available at all times. I listened to a mother of three-year-old twins complain about how far she has to go to find an emergency room when her children suddenly fall sick. Once we have these easily-accessible medical centers up and running, I believe it will be much easier for mothers like her to get the medical treatment they need for their children.

    The Korean Constitution puts forth the principle of free public education for all citizens, but there are still many people whose opportunities for education are limited by economic difficulties. What is worse, there are significant gaps in the quality of education provided in the various districts of Seoul. Therefore, we have established the minimum level of education for all Seoul citizens in order to honor all citizens’ basic right to education and ease the burden of education costs, while the appropriate level has been set to provide adults greater opportunities for lifelong education.

    Upholding these education standards is an effort that should be led by the Office of Education based on the principle of educational autonomy. This is why we cooperated closely with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to establish the welfare standard for education, and we will continue to provide support throughout its implementation while continuously seeking the cooperation of the central government. Furthermore, we will gradually lower all additional costs imposed on the parents of public school students, such as the cost of field trips and class materials, and expand the current provision of free, green school lunches to all elementary and middle school students by 2014, eventually achieving public education that is truly free.

    A fourth grader in elementary school told me that his mother is always worried about the quality of school lunches and that he is sorry for asking her for money to buy class materials. By significantly reducing the expenses of attending elementary and middle schools by next year and providing greater support for class materials, these students will be able to eat healthy school lunches and study harder and more cheerfully than ever.

    I have just elaborated on the five major areas of the welfare standard and related projects, but the greatest obstacle to realizing them is, as always, the budget. As you well know, the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s finances are not in the best of shape. Nevertheless, we must do what needs to be done. So, we will prioritize the more urgent, important projects, and those that require reviews of their effectiveness will be implemented as pilot projects. Also, we will employ various means to minimize budget increases, and continuously increase our investment in the people and public services every year until 2018. The budget we need next year to pursue the 102 projects related to the welfare standard is KRW 1.62 trillion, going as high as KRW 2.74 trillion if we include the budget for the Office of Education. This represents an increase of KRW 358.0 billion, or of KRW 791.0 billion including the Office of Education budget, over the budget for 2012. We will endeavor to make the Seoul Citizen Welfare Standard a reality by expanding the current proportion of the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s welfare budget from 26 percent to 30 percent in 2014.

    However, the welfare standard cannot be achieved through the efforts of the Seoul Metropolitan Government alone. In many cases, we will need to amend state laws and secure financial support from the central government. In order for us to adopt the Seoul-type Minimum Livelihood Expense, the state has to first amend the laws related to the National Basic Livelihood Security System. It needs to ease regulations, such as the size standards in the Rental Housing Act and the Building Act, so that the citizens may have greater opportunities to purchase their own homes through the increased supply of small, affordable housing. The central government must also improve its system in order for us to improve public care service organizations, as well as the conditions of their workers. It must adopt a flexible recruitment system to ensure a stable supply of manpower in the health and welfare sectors, and make a policy decision regarding the expansion of free education while also increasing the number of public school teachers in order to decrease class sizes. Furthermore, it must increase the proportion of subsidies from the national treasury to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, which is currently the greatest obstacle to the expansion of our welfare program.

    Some may call our efforts to increase welfare during an economic recession absurd, but I believe that the cost of expanding welfare is an investment. Many experts believe that increasing public expenditure in welfare will lead to greater job creation and higher incomes and spending, ultimately contributing to economic growth. Proving this is the fact that increased welfare’s contribution to economic growth is double that of development projects. By achieving the Seoul Welfare Standard, we expect that by 2018, we will directly generate more than 170,000 jobs, not to mention the secondary impact of this job creation. This will increase the incomes of our youth, elderly, and women, and through the Seoul-type Basic Livelihood Security System, the incomes of those in lower-income brackets will also increase. Moreover, the increased spending by low-income families and reduction of medical expenses are expected to contribute significantly to the future economic growth of Seoul.

    The Seoul Citizen Welfare Standard I have announced today is a welfare standard that we established based on social consensus with the citizens of Seoul, and it is the first of its kind in Korea. Through this effort, the city’s administration will shift its focus from development to the people, and the standard will be promoted as a right all citizens are entitled to enjoy. We hope the Seoul Citizen Welfare Standard will serve to enhance the standard of living of all Korean people.

    Once again, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the members of the Committee, the researchers who worked so industriously over these many months to devise the Seoul Citizen Welfare Standard, and all the citizens of Seoul who took part in the process.