Mon, May 20, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Social welfare needs more thought

By James Hsueh 薛承泰

On May 10, the Temporary Provi-sions for Elderly Welfare Subsidy (敬老福利生活津貼暫行條例) finally passed the third reading. While there were some twists and turns in the push for the bill, most lawmakers dared not block it for fear of alienating senior voters. They unanimously urged the government to provide the elderly with regular subsidies. It is estimated that about 440,000 senior citizens are qualified for a NT$3,000 monthly stipend starting June 1 -- retroactive to Jan. 1.

Even as government officials were thanking the legislature for their hard work, hundreds of physically and mentally disabled people from across the nation gathered outside the Legislative Yuan to protest the raising of the threshold on their subsidies, which left them economically insecure. It appears the government is haggling over every dollar for those truly in need while it is generously paying a total of NT$16 billion to the elderly aged 65 and above who are neither rich nor poor.

According to the provisions, those with high incomes, as well as those covered by other pensions, are clearly excluded from this program. The government believes that it is unfair for the roughly 440,000 senior citizens not to receive any subsidies from the nation. Hence, it wants to look after the weak by providing the money in the form of a subsidy.

This may sound reasonable, but the problem is: How does the government know that the 440,000 recipients are the weak? If they are not, is the program really social welfare?

The government's logic is contradictory. For example, Aboriginal lawmakers lowered the age threshold for Aboriginal recipients of subsidies to 55 because of their shorter life expectancy. Based on the same logic, the threshold for males should be lowered to 60, since their life expectancy is shorter than that for females. Moreover, the families of those who made contributions to the nation but passed away before 65 without receiving any government subsidies should also demand subsidies.

Taiwan became an aging society about 10 years ago, and the aging of its population will further accelerate in the next decade. Since the elderly cannot completely depend on their families for economic security, there has been a trend toward the nation taking over some of the responsibility. But which of the various elderly welfare programs is the most urgent?

By choosing to provide the monthly allowance, what good will it do our social welfare? For the rich elderly, providing them with the allowances can be described by the old Chinese saying "adding feet to a snake" (畫蛇添足). For the poor ones, such an allowance can be described by another old say-ing, "It's useless to put out a fire with a cup of water" (杯水車薪). The government must use its limited resources to optimum effect. Especially during an economic decline, the NT$16 billion for the elderly will crowd out other programs -- such as those for women and children, the disabled and the unemployed. The government has not even worked out where it is going to get the money for the elderly subsidy yet.

If someday the government is unable to pay the allowances, won't it deprive the elderly of their rights according to its logic?

Besides, the elderly pension is defined as a "transitional measure" before the national pension program is officially launched. Then perhaps we should ask: Has the national pension program been finalized? When will it be implemented? How can the elderly policy be called "transitional" if the government cannot answer these questions?

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