Since February 8th, Seoul city has carried out a referendum to protest against 'Free Lunch' policy among citizens. For a year the 'Free Lunch' policy has provoked controversy in Korea. The 'Free lunch' policy is one of the government's social welfare policies.
The policy has become a political hot potato since the Democratic Party launched it as its main campaign pledge during the local elections in June. At present, the conservatives and the progressives are in disagreement with different welfare policies. As public welfare is a basic right of the people and a duty of the state, it is unlikely that we should expect an outcome right away.
Why is welfare important? "Welfare is basically a way to elevate the quality of people's lives." This is how a professor of the department of social welfare, Kim Hak-ju defines it. When asked about the cause of the controversy, he answered, "Welfare exists due to peoples’ cravings for welfare. The desire results from social problems. In welfare studies, we research the methods to resolve these social problems. The problem here is to what extent welfare should be provided for the people."
The conservatives and the progressives have a clear difference regarding 'to what extent the welfare should be provided for the people. According to an opinion of the progressive party, welfare should expand its service from selective to universal focusing on the protection of the vulnerable and income redistribution.
One student from 'A Group of Twenties for the Democratic Party' explained that universality largely has two meanings. One is providing customized welfare for not only low income groups but for every person in our country. Another is expanding welfare services such as education, child care, and medical treatments. He added this could be called as a creative welfare nation.
Although it is impossible to immediately extend beneficiaries it is certainly worth trying. He emphasized in particular, universal welfare is a philosophy of the Democratic Party which shifts a paradigm in growth to solve low fertility and polarization problems. He concluded "We are trying to make a new Korean model."
On the other hand, the conservative party insists an opposite argument about the policy. One member of the 'Digital Party Committee for The Great National Party (GNP)' said "It is difficult to be a welfare state under the poor circumstance when our income level is much lower than the Scandinavian countries."
GNP argues, at this point, the way the Democratic Party provides services to people for nothing such as 3+1 (free lunch, child care, Medicare+ half price tuition) policy is unrealistic. So the GNP believes it is better to take the hassle out of the poor and to extend the range of the social services to the middle class.
This is the GNP's secured welfare policy. She once again stressed "Scandinavian countries have already experienced the disadvantages of welfare. It is impossible to minimize the welfare if it is expanded all at once. As welfare can greatly influence on the economy of the nation, a state should be careful about the extension of the welfare system."
Asked about this controversy, Kim, a professor of social welfare answered, “In fact, the word 'Free Lunch' itself has a contradiction. There is no free welfare. Those services are ultimately from the taxes of people. Unless the politicians pay those services for people, free welfare is nonsense."
He talked about an anecdote. "In Topgol park in Seoul everyday 1000 won rice & soup was provided for the elderly aged over 65 for lunch. However, after prices crept, the price of rice & soup served increased to 1500 won. Although there was only a 500 won increase, the number of customers considerably dwindled.
This tells us we should never forget there are still a lot of people who cannot even eat a meal a day, unlike when the press tells us that our economy is improving every day." His hope is that our society will create a practice real welfare rather than flattering people by saying 'Free' all of the time.
Some people believe this dispute is a necessary one and one of those important steps to becoming an advanced nation. There is also the belief that the present situation is being created by the opposition party as just a temporary measure to win the upcoming 2012 presidential election by picking on the ruling party.
If this is the case, perhaps we should think back on what American President Obama said in his speech in January at the memorial for the shooting incident in Arizona.
He stressed "The forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us." Let us no longer fight each other for our own greedy purposes but search for ways to help our people. Maybe someday we will also have a government of the people, for the people.
Park Sung-yeun firstname.lastname@example.org
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