Shin Ji-hye, a 33-year-old feminist and socially liberal politician, hopes to set off sweeping changes in the nation and challenge social, financial and gender inequality, starting with the Seoul mayoral election.
Shin, a representative of the minor Basic Income Party, and other members of her party believe a new social contract is necessary in an era where decent jobs are on the decline, poverty is growing, inequality is widening and housing prices are skyrocketing.
“We created this party believing that the state should provide a basic monthly income for all citizens to build a better social safety net and help the underprivileged get out of the poverty trap,” Shin said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
The minor Basic Income Party was established Jan. 19, 2020, on a promise to provide a monthly basic income of 600,000 won ($542) for all South Koreans. It has around 20,000 members.
No country has ever provided a monthly basic income for all its citizens. Some communities -- including cities in the Netherlands, villages in India and the Canadian province of Ontario -- have tried it as an experiment.
“When I volunteered in college, I saw many children and teenagers living in shantytowns, people with developmental disabilities and single elderly people. With the current welfare system, it seemed very hard for them to get out of the poverty trap,” she said.
“Many of them were in welfare blind spots, not being able to apply for the Basic Livelihood Security Program because they have ‘family’ to support them -- even if they don’t get any help from them. I saw that welfare should be individual-oriented and not family-oriented.”
Why 600,000 won? The country’s existing program for people living in poverty, the Basic Livelihood Security Program, Shin says, can only be replaced by a new program that provides more. The standard monthly subsidy under the existing program was 530,000 won per person as of last year for people whose income was less than 30 percent of the median.
The biggest question is how the envisioned program could be funded. The Korean population is around 51 million, and simple calculations show that it would cost more than 300 trillion won to provide the proposed supplement to all Koreans.
“The 300 trillion won will not come from the existing national budget,” she said, suggesting three ways to fund the plan. It is to impose a 15 percent tax on all income from wages, business and capital gains; to impose a tax on all land ownership; and to impose a carbon tax on all business activities that emit carbon.
This way, she believes, more than 80 percent of the public can get more back than they pay through taxes.
Shin also discussed her feminist views.
“Some people have the misunderstanding that feminism is to strengthen female chauvinism. But it is not,” she said.
She defined feminism as looking at society from a new perspective -- the perspective of those who experience discrimination -- and to create a society where no one is subjected to discrimination.
“There is definitely discrimination and violence that women experience in Korea. Ninety percent of victims of sexual violence are women, and the gender wage gap is highest among OECD countries,” she said.
Gender roles within the family are a prime example of this, Shin said. “When married, caring for children is mostly left to women -- whether they work or not.”
According to statistics recently released by the Labor Ministry, 22,297 men took paternity leave in 2019, accounting for just 21.2 percent of all parental leave takers. This does not mean men don’t want to take parental leave. A survey carried out by job portal site Job Korea showed that 87 percent of men were in favor of taking paternity leave but were not able to do because of an unsupportive workplace culture.
As a mayoral candidate, Shin pledged to make parental leave mandatory for both parents, starting with the city government so that the private sector can follow.
“The mandatory system will help men and women to equally care for their children, narrow the gender wage gap and help prevent women from discontinuing their careers.”
By Shin Ji-hye (firstname.lastname@example.org