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Lee vows to put welfare policy focus on most needy

All Headlines 07:45 June 27, 2011

SEOUL, June 27 (Yonhap) -- President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that the government is putting its welfare policy focus on the most needy while trying to "knit the welfare net more tightly" to ensure that the most vulnerable get assistance.

"When it comes to welfare benefits, the most needy are those who lack even the minimal foundation to live with dignity and thus, teeter on the brink of disaster," Lee said in his biweekly radio address. "Ideally, each and every person in the nation should be allowed to enjoy welfare benefits. Still, the top priority has to be placed on the most vulnerable."

Lee, who had promoted pro-business policies in his early years in office, has sought to boost his image as a caring leader concerned about the mid- and low-income classes amid complaints that the benefits of growth in big businesses do not trickle down to the working class.

Welfare has also been one of the most sought-after policies in South Korean politics in recent months. The ruling and opposition parties have been competing intensely to come up with promises of greater welfare benefits ahead of next year's general and presidential elections despite concerns about pork-barrel politics.

Lee said there are still many people suffering in the "welfare blind spots," using as an example the recently televised case of three neglected siblings who make do with free samples of food at discount stores, travel in subway trains aimlessly all day long and sleep in a public restroom in a park at night.

As their mentally ill father could not take care of the children, their resident registration records were expunged, making them neglected by everyone, without benefiting from any institutional welfare service, Lee said.

Lee said he immediately instructed the health ministry to identify those who fall through the cracks in the welfare system like the three children. After on-site inspections, the ministry found as many as 24,000 people living in a similar situation, Lee said.

"The government has so far striven to knit the welfare net more tightly, but still much remains to be done," Lee said. "Although this situation is also found in other leading welfare nations, all these recent affairs (including the case of the three siblings) served as a clear reminder that blind spots still remain in the nation's welfare system."

Lee said many people are believed to be abusing the state welfare system to receive benefits illegally. In an effort to prevent such illegal welfare payments and improve overall welfare administration with speed and efficiency, Lee said, the government opened an integrated online welfare management network in January.

"With the resulting budget savings, the government intends to effectively support needy households," Lee said. "But what is more important fundamentally is to help underprivileged people gain a better education and employment, become financially independent and join the middle class."

jschang@yna.co.kr
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