The death on Monday of an elderly man in Changhua County has turned the spotlight on Taiwan’s social welfare system, as he had been malnourished for a long time, putting him at high risk of medical complications.
The 62-year-old had been living in Hemei Township (和美) for years with his two younger brothers, who are 60 and 55, prior to his death from sepsis at a hospital in Changhua.
The plight of the brothers, surnamed Yeh (葉), had been reported to Changhua County Councilor Lai Ching-mei (賴清美) on Friday last week by Haosiou Borough (好修) Warden Chen Hsin-yi (陳信義).
Photo courtesy of Changhua County Councilor Lai Ching-mei’s Office
The two officials went to the men’s home later that day.
The home, which they had inherited when their parents died eight years ago, was dilapidated, Lai said.
All three appeared to be sick and starving, Lai said, adding that the second-eldest and the youngest, who is blind, were rushed to a hospital by emergency services along with the eldest, who was determined to be in a critical condition.
After the eldest Yeh’s death, Changhua County Commissioner Wang Hui-mei (王惠美) pledged to overhaul the county’s social security network and said that local authorities should learn from the tragedy to ensure that such a situation does not occur again.
The brothers had been struggling for years, with the poor health of the eldest and the blindness of the youngest keeping them from work, while the second-eldest had only occasional work that brought in little money, Chen said.
Even the odd jobs that the second brother had dried up when the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago, leaving the three with only a government disability subsidy of NT$3,700 (US$124.24) per month for the blind brother, Chen said.
Their aunt, who lives next door, had been giving them food, but she died about a year ago and they had been practically starving since then, Chen said.
When the death was reported, people across Taiwan began offering donations for the two surviving brothers. As of Wednesday morning, NT$6.2 million had been raised, in addition to donations of food and household supplies.
Questions were raised about the nation’s social welfare system, with some saying it failed the Yeh brothers.
Film director Akira Chen (陳文彬), who is from Changhua, said it was difficult to believe such a terrible incident could happen in his home county.
“Did this really take place in today’s Taiwan?” he wrote on Facebook, questioning the roles of the local police, public opinion leaders and social welfare workers.
“The social security network in Taiwan is broken,” he said.
Other social media comments said it is shameful that people could starve in Taiwan and asked how the brothers’ situation could have gone unnoticed for such a long time.
The Hemei Township Office said that its workers and local delegates had visited the home, but did not enter it, as the men declined help.
That is why no other subsidy applications were filed for them, the office said.
The youngest brother was still in hospital as of yesterday, but his condition had stabilized and he was on his way to recovery, doctors said.
The other brother had been discharged and had returned home, they said.
He thanked people who had donated for their generosity and said he was determined to make a living on his own.
The Changhua County Social Affairs Bureau said it has registered the two men as a low-income family and that it would provide them with subsidies to help with medical bills and funeral costs.
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