I am glad to meet you all. I extend my gratitude to you for standing by those in need amid these trying times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter how common contact-free activities become, meeting face-to-face is inevitable when it comes to caring for people with disabilities, the elderly and children. As your workloads and tension increase further, the fatigue you feel has likely risen to the same degree as well. I would like to take this opportunity to support and encourage you, albeit in a small way.
You make our people feel that “In time of need, the country will protect our lives” – the strong belief that they have someone to rely on and subsequent sense of relief. Together with all of our people, I’d like to extend once more profound appreciation to all caretakers across the country.
Welfare and the social safety net are increasingly important for dealing with our society’s ageing population and polarization, and the COVID-19 crisis has brought home their importance yet again. Whenever we have faced hardships, we have institutionalized sharing with concern for the importance of our neighbors. In this way, we have created the National Health Insurance and the national basic living security system, thereby protecting the health and livelihoods of the people. Korea’s COVID-19 response, which has set an example for the world, was able to achieve results thanks to these two systems.
From the outset, my Administration has aimed to further expand the public role in and responsibilities for caregiving and other social services. The Government’s extraordinary determination to assume the responsibility for social welfare services that have, so far, been entrusted to the private sector led to the launch of the Public Agency for Social Service project. As of now, the governments of eight major cities and provinces, including Seoul, Daegu and Gyeongsangnam-do Province, have founded Public Agency for Social Service offices. These agencies directly provide welfare services and, at the same time, support the improvement of services at existing welfare facilities.
In addition, a total of 14 comprehensive home care centers run by the Public Agency for Social Service were established nationwide. These comprehensive home care centers offer long-term home-visit nursing services, personal assistance services for people with disabilities, emergency childcare services and other services that are overwhelming private welfare facilities.
The establishment of the Public Agency for Social Service has helped significantly increase the proportion of permanent positions among caretakers, allowing them to work with a greater sense of duty. When caretakers are more satisfied with their jobs, those being taken care of are more satisfied as well. Together with caretakers, the Government will strive to further expand welfare and the social safety net.
In March when Daegu became the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, caretakers from the Public Agency for Social Service attended to those with disabilities and children who had been left without proper care. Clad in protective gear, they have stood by COVID-19 positive senior citizens around the clock.
While assisting private welfare facilities and 10 hospitals, including Daegu Medical Center, they provided significant support for welfare and epidemic prevention and control efforts. I find it very fortunate that the Public Agency for Social Service is up and running. Since the necessity and role of the Public Agency for Social Service has been confirmed amid the COVID-19 crisis, I hope that public awareness of welfare and the social safety net will increase further.
Public Agency for Social Service offices will be established in all 17 major cities and provinces across the country by 2022. I ask the central and local governments and employees of the Agency to join forces so that everyone can feel the warmth of welfare.
Face-to-face services like caregiving are essential for maintaining communities even amid a crisis such as COVID-19. Essential workers have no choice but to expose themselves to risks while engaging in face-to-face services that are crucial for communities. The country must provide them with special protection.
On October 6, the Government announced measures to strengthen the safety and protection of essential workers. We have devised customized support measures, so that healthcare and medical professionals, caregivers, couriers, deliverers and street cleaners can receive due treatment and be protected from extreme conditions such as exposure to dangers and death from overwork. We will further develop the system to provide fair compensation and expand the safety net for essential workers.
Under these circumstances, the Seongdong-gu Office enacted an ordinance to protect and support essential workers for the first time in the country and set an example by establishing Seoul’s first comprehensive home care center. I ask other local governments to participate in these efforts.
Moreover, I hope that the National Assembly will come together to pass the Public Agency for Social Service bill as soon as possible to establish the legal framework. We will also push ahead – as planned – with a system in which the Government takes responsibility for dementia patients, comprehensive care for the elderly within local communities, and public services arranged for and by local residents. Strengthening employment and social safety nets is the foundation of the Korean New Deal. We will invest a total of 28.4 trillion won to this end.
Social welfare workers are the very people who provide warmth to our society. Thanks to your dedication, we are able to rely on our neighbors and have faith in the country in our daily lives. I will always support you with a sense of gratitude. Let’s wisely surmount the COVID-19 crisis and lay a steppingstone together for a mutually beneficial leap forward.