Press conference for the “Seoul Senior Citizen Comprehensive Plan”
Date: October 30, 2012
Venue: Briefing Room, Seoul City Hall
Seoul’s population consists of over one million senior citizens, but many of them are not leading what we would consider comfortable lives. I once asked some college students, “What comes to mind when you think of senior citizens in Seoul?” Most replied with simply “Jong-ro, Jongmyo and Tapgol Park”. I have visited Jongmyo Plaza and Tapgol Park, and most of the 1,000 or so senior citizens I saw there were playing, or watching people play, go and janggi. I believe this is a problem. How can I help these seniors lead happier and more productive lives? I have incorporated my ideas into a comprehensive plan for senior citizens.
What I will outline today is only the beginning. By further studying and developing this plan going forward, we will pursue the most effective means of helping seniors lead stable and enjoyable lives.
Senior citizens endured vicissitude and great challenges throughout the modern history of Korea, including the Korean War, rapid industrialization, and democratization. They spent most of their youth in that period, during which they contributed to national development and lifted our country to rank among the 15 greatest industrial powers in the world. They also increased Korea’s global presence and influence in the areas of sports, culture, and diplomacy. We must not forget the time and dedication that it took to achieve these remarkable achievements.
However, what price have they paid for their accomplishments? What are the lives of these people like now? Seoul’s elderly population has exceeded one million people, and 20 percent of them are living alone. The poverty rate among the elderly is 45 percent, three times higher than the average of OECD countries, and we have the highest elderly suicide rate. Largely neglected by society, senior citizens in Seoul are exposed to poverty, disease, loneliness, and idleness.
However, going forward, we are seeing growing numbers of relatively healthy, able “young elderly” people. This is due to economic growth and the development of medical technology, but it is largely the result of the transition of the baby boomer generation to old age. This new generation of young elderly has now reached 2.4 million people. Seoul’s population is aging at a rate faster than any other city in the world, creating greater demand for public health, welfare, safety, and jobs. So now is the time that we must break the cycle of difficulty and suffering in the lives of our senior citizens. We must realize that if our elderly citizens are unhappy, all citizens of Seoul will be unhappy as well. To protect the elderly of Seoul and ensure their income and health, our society needs to pay more attention to their needs. This is one of our biggest responsibilities.
Hence, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will create a policy that is tailored to the special needs and health requirements of the elderly, and we will expand the scope of the policy to include baby boomers and the “young elderly”. Furthermore, our focus will be on making the most of existing local resources, rather than building new, large-scale facilities, and providing effective, practical support to the elderly. By establishing strategic connections between policies, we will create an efficient and sustainable paradigm of welfare for the elderly.
As a first step toward creating a comprehensive plan for the elderly, a Listening Policy Workshops was held in April under the theme “How can we design life after retirement?” Representatives of Seoul City visited senior citizen welfare centers across the city and collected the opinions of 500 respondents through 22 surveys of senior citizens, welfare professionals, members of senior citizen organizations, and employees of welfare facilities. A plan was established based on these responses.
The “Seoul Senior Citizen Plan” was drawn up based on three new paradigms: expansion of policy beneficiaries, customization and specialization of the plan, and greater linkage with local resources. The plan will help senior citizens lead healthy lives in old age and find jobs suitable to their unique needs. It will strengthen care for the elderly living alone and provide housing facilities designed especially for the elderly. The plan, with its 35 projects in six sectors, aims to build a comfortable living environment for senior citizens, support active leisure and cultural lives, and establish a culture of respect and intergenerational integration. Of the 35 projects, 21 are new, while the other 14 have been reorganized. By linking all of these projects and creating a virtuous cycle of welfare, with the participation of the elderly, we will establish Seoul as a city where all citizens are guaranteed a comfortable and pleasant life in old age.
With this comprehensive plan, the Seoul Metropolitan Government hopes to improve the citizens’ understanding of the elderly and increase the proportion of people with a positive image of the elderly from 54.8 percent to 63 percent by 2015. In addition, by 2015, we will endeavor to increase the senior employment rate to 30 percent, the use of welfare facilities to 17 percent, and the use of nursing care to 10 percent, while reducing the suicide rate from the current 64.4 people per 100,000 to 58.4 people. Seoul’s senior citizens, who have made the city what it is today, deserve our care and support.