For the needy people, welfare is a right given them, not charity, an opposition lawmaker said Sunday, urging the government to expand welfare for the socially and economically marginalized people with disabilities.
A polio victim himself, Rep. Park Eun-soo of the main opposition Democratic Party said that one out of 10 South Koreans have some degree of disabilities, but many of them do not receive proper treatment and often face discrimination.
“A more active welfare policy should be in place to give them equal opportunities, not isolation from our society,” Park said in an interview with the Yonhap news agency.
Park, 55, who became a lawmaker in 2008 on the DP’s proportional representation ticket, says he himself has experienced various forms of discrimination from an early age simply because he is physically challenged.
After graduating the prestigious Seoul National University and passing the rigorous bar exam, Park wanted to become a judge but could not sit on the bench for a long while for no clear reasons.
“It was a wake-up call for me. Before being rejected, I had thought people would recognize me if I study hard and become a judge,” Park said. “Through the experience, I realized that it would be hard for a disable person to achieve something in our society without changing the social system.”
He later became a judge, only after the Supreme Court, under harsh public and media criticism, overturned its earlier decision against him being hired as a judge.
Over the years, Park said, South Korea has made considerable progress in breaking down the high wall of discrimination against disabled people but it still has a long way to go to fully protect them.
As an example, he cited that under the employment promotion act for the disabled, government agencies now should fill at least 6 percent of new job openings with disabled people until the figure reaches 4 percent of the total work force.
“For disabled people, things have changed a lot for the better,” Park said.
Having served as the director of the Korea Employment Agency for the Disabled from 2004-2008, Park said he is proud that he has done something meaningful to help enhance the rights of the disabled people.
According to Park, an anti-disability discrimination law was enacted in 2007 but has yet to be fully implemented due to the lack of public awareness of the issue and shortage of staff in charge of correcting wrong practices.
He also pointed out the problem of low budget for disabled people which currently stands at a mere 0.3 percent of the total budget, the third lowest among 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last year. The corresponding OECD average is 2.5 percent.
Park said politics was not what he had intended to pursue in earnest but he now believes that it can be a useful tool to help promote the right of disabled people in society, especially at workplaces.
“It is important to decide a policy involving representatives from people who are directly affected by the new system or law. It is even better for them to actively participate in the decision-making process,” he said.
The lawmaker still sees many tasks unsolved in the parliament regarding issues on the disabled as well as socially underprivileged. But he is not so optimistic that he will be able to serve a second term as a lawmaker.
“I am not sure whether people will select a person with disability under the current system as they may prefer a representative who can work for his or her electorate,” Park said.
“If a new political system is introduced to pick someone who knows how to craft better policies and handle administrative affairs, I am willing to participate in politics in the future.”