Sun, Jan 05, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Government should learn how to time our welfare

By Edward Wu 吳明儒

A new year has broken! Many people have made wishes and resolutions to spur themselves on and encourage themselves. What kinds of expectations and visions should our society embrace in this brand new year?

Recently, a sanitation worker in southern Taiwan died as a result of an accident. Desperate to continue to be able to raise their three children, his widow knelt down in front of the township chief and representatives, begging them to allow her to fill the vacant post left by her deceased husband. Because of the economic downturn, however, even the post of sanitation worker has become popular. Since there are not enough jobs for everyone, she failed to have her wish granted and is having to scrape a living by working part-time as a cleaner at the local township office. Facing this crisis, her young daughter had no choice but to temporarily suspend her college education, and take up part-time work in order to help support her family.

Although some charitable citizens have expressed the wish to make donations to the family, the family graciously declined such offers, saying that there were others in society whose need was much greater. While other girls of the same age were shouting their idols' names at some New Year's Eve party or other, the daughter in this particular family may well have been out, working hard in order to support her family.

I don't wish to make you sad. But this story reminds me of the old Taiwanese song -- A Solitary Girl's Wish (孤女的願望 ) -- which tells the story of a country girl, who tries to look for a job in a big city to support her family.

Chinese families have always valued their children's education, which has traditionally been considered the only route away from poverty. So a family's decision to let a child suspend her schooling certainly reveals its helplessness. But cases of this sort have been occurring constantly over the past year. It is my understanding that thousands of college students in Taiwan are forced to drop out of school each year simply because they cannot afford tuition. This must prompt many people to ask the question: "Why don't these students apply for students loans?"

In fact, given the poor financial circumstances of many of their families, they may have no money for living expenses even if they were granted student loans. It is therefore difficult for them to continue their studies and they may have to work at least part-time. Regulations governing applications for social welfare are strict and forbidding -- not to mention the interference of local forces in applications.

These problems once again highlight the poor timing of social-welfare policy that has emerged despite the transfer of power

In the days when the economy was strong, the government actively mapped out a grand welfare policy. In the tough times, however, it has been stingy to those in need, saying that its resources are limited voicing the concern that the public may be relying too heavily on social welfare. But we should in no circumstances sit back and watch penniless families struggle. Nor should we quietly undermine social fairness and justice from behind the facade of a welfare system.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was himself born to an impoverished farming family. He must have the deepest feelings about the situation. Many children from needy families certainly wish that he would hear their new year wishes.

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