[Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]
The Yoon Suk Yeol government on Tuesday unveiled its first set of measures to raise South Korea’s chronically low birth rate that has fallen to a record low last year, stoking concerns that a thinning population poses a threat to the economy.
“We should be able to earn public trust that the country takes responsibility for our children,” President Yoon said, during this year’s first meeting of the Presidential Committee on Ageing Society and Population Policy held at the presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul.
Yoon, as the chairman of the committee, presided over the meeting for the first time as a president in seven years.
“The issue of low birth rate is an important national agenda and the government and the private sector should join forces to resolve it,” Yoon said.
He also ordered the government to reassess the low birth rate policy based on scientific data to see “why it failed” and come up with bold measures and invest resources under the notion that the country holds responsibility.
The meeting came as Korea’s total fertility rate, or the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime, recorded an all-time low of 0.78 last year. Korea is also projected to enter a super-aged society in 2025.
The first set of measures involve five key tasks ? reinforcing support for balancing work and childcare, providing a family-friendly housing service, offering a high quality childcare and education policy, subsidizing childcare costs through parental benefits, and offering pregnancy care support.
[Photo by Yonhap]
The government plans to offer more residential support for the newly-weds and families with children as it believes that young people in Korea are putting off marriage as they cannot afford to buy or rent houses amid the soaring prices and they delay having children.
The government plans to allow families with two children, instead of the current three, to be eligible for the public housing subscription benefits.
The government will also lower the income and asset criteria for public housing by up to 20 percentage points for each child. The income requirement for granting housing loans to the newly-weds will also be eased to relieve residential costs.
A total of 430,000 houses will be supplied to the newly-weds by 2027, including 155,000 public housing units, 100,000 public rental housing units, and 175,000 private housing units.
The government also plans to expand support for childcare services. The number of households eligible for childcare services will be tripled to about 250,000 in 2027. There will be more institutions offering part-time childcare services.
The government will also increase the number of daycare centers managed by the private companies. It will support rent fees so that small- and mid-size enterprises are able to offer childcare services for the families of their employees.
The government also plans to expand childcare services for primary school students by having the school offer care services until 8 p.m. instead of the current 7 p.m.
[Photo by Lee Seung-hwan]
The measures also include plans to allow couples to balance work and family. The government plans to expand labor supervision so that employees are able to go on childcare leaves at their workplaces.
It has been practically impossible for a majority of workers at small and mid-size companies and irregular workers to reconcile work and family life. The government will push for more flexible working hours.
Parental benefits will also be offered to parents of children under 12 months old. A monthly allowance of 700,000 won ($539) will be offered to parents with a child aged under 1 and 350,000 won to a child aged 1 year old. The allowances will be raised to 1 million won and 500,000 won each next year.
The government will also support pregnancy and infertility. It will consult with regional governments to ease the income criteria for infertility treatment subsidies and extend the infertility leave to six days from three days a year. It also plans to reduce medical expenses for children. The co-payment rate for hospitalization for children under 24 months old will be reduced to zero percent from 5 percent. Medical expenses will be subsidized for premature babies of under 24 months old and babies with congenital disorders.
The government, in the meantime, plans to set aside about 40 trillion won to deal with the low birth rate next year from the entire budget of 670 trillion won.
By Ryu Young-wook, Yeon Gyu-wook, Lim Sung-hyun, Park Yun-gyun, and Choi Jieun
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]