SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, March 20, 2018 – The Seoul City Government works on building the “social safety net to prevent lonely death” together with local communities so that no single citizens will not be socially ostracized and found dead lonely. The city government has come up with such a set of comprehensive measures ranging from identifying socially isolated individuals to prevent lonely life as well as lonely death, helping them to recover social relationships and providing public services and funerals with dignity.
First, neighbors like village leaders or house owners, who are well aware of village circumstances, take the lead in visiting isolated single-person households, look out for them, and help them recover their link with neighbors and the society. The public sector provides public services necessary and tailored for those individuals such as urgent living expense subsidies, medical allowances and jobs. City of Seoul provides “public-owned funeral services” for the first time in the country to support death with dignity in addition to preventive measures against lonely death. The funeral services provide support such as mortuary and funeral rituals so that the society can express condolences and convey sympathy of the death. This is to guarantee a sense of dignity for those individuals who died lonely, which is way different from the past practices like cremation services focusing on disposing of bodies.
Based upon the details described as above, the Seoul city government has announced ｢comprehensive protective measures against lonely death｣ covering 3 fields: ① building up social relationships ② providing tailored public services ③ introducing and providing support for public-owned funerals. The City of Seoul plans to spend 1.8 billion won this year and expand the scale every year.
First, local residents visit and look out for single-person households and help bring the lonely people out into the world. Also, the residents motivate them to participate in community activities and engage in human interactions with neighbors. Those services will be led by “caregiving neighbors” comprised of local residents who have lived in the town for a long time, town/village leaders who are familiar with community circumstances, and resident autonomy committee members.
This year, the city government plans to select 26 areas in 17 autonomous districts and provide support for organizing and operating the “caregiving neighbor” program. The Seoul City Government will conduct an annual survey on elderly single-person households in poor living conditions such as semi-basement, rooftop rooms and Goshiwon (small and economical living quarters). The survey outcomes will be utilized as the baseline data. In this regard, the City of Seoul will connect regional resources and build up support system based on 402 reaching out community service centers, 4,131 sharing neighbors, 3,376 sharing stores, and 424 local social-security consultative groups with 9,031 members.
For single-persons household who are brought out into the world through the effort, the Seoul Metropolitan Government helps them establish social relationships with neighbors through community activities like self-help groups and relationship-restoring programs.
Second, the City of Seoul provides one-stop medical services such as mental health check-up and chronic disease management for single-person households with diseases. Indeed, 39 percent of the lonely deaths are caused by alcoholism, depression, liver hardening and diabetes. 397 visiting nurses at reaching out community service centers, 25 community health centers, 9 municipal hospitals, and 147 mental health facilities are participated in the program.
For isolated elderly single-person households who are disconnected from social relationships due to unemployment and etc., Seoul 50 Plus Foundation will drive the comprehensive support including job matching, consultation and training. The foundation will newly launch a special course (1 class with 60 attendees) covering social adaption, building relationships, and health management. If those single-person households want a job, the foundation will help them find public job opportunities (e.g. Boram Jobs) like town delivery services and driving.
Third, the City of Seoul enacts and proclaims an ordinance of ｢Seoul City’s Public-owned Funeral｣ on March 22, 2018. This is to provide public support in funerals to guarantee the dignified death of all with the condolences from the society.
The funeral services cover not only the dead without any family or friends as it have been, but also basic living assistance recipients and low-income groups (secondary poor group) who cannot afford a funeral.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to expand and strengthen the public owned funeral services in the long term. Such an effort will range from a pilot program of village funeral where communities gather to mourn the death to public campaigns including will-writing activities and property donation.