The Universal Welfare Standards enabled by and for the Citizens of Seoul(Seoul Welfare Standards)
Welfare Policy Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government

The Problem

Citizens Losing Hope because their Quality of Life is far below the Level of the National Economic Development

Seoul is a global megacity with more than ten million inhabitants. In the 1950s, it was one of the poorest cities in the world. Through rapid economic development, often referred to as “the miracle on the Han River,” it has emerged as one of the 21 biggest cities in the world in terms of GDP. However, behind the amazing economic development and the luxurious exterior of the city are sacrifices of many citizens struggling to scrape by.
The shameful records of Korea include the highest suicide rate and the lowest fertility rate among the OECD countries. Its capital Seoul is the biggest contributor to the tragic reality of the country. An increasing number of people in Seoul are desperate enough to take their own lives. More and more people are reluctant to have children in the city. There are so many who have lost all hope in this city.

Negative Consequences of the National Development Drive: Income Polarization and Regional Imbalances

While cities in other developed countries have shifted the focus of their development policies to provide sufficient social safety nets with expanded welfare benefits for the underprivileged once their economic growth reached a certain level, Seoul has long neglected its citizens’ lives while pursuing the fastest economic growth and development. As a consequence, the middle class has collapsed, more people have fallen below the poverty line, and the economic polarization has become aggravated in Seoul.

Provision of Selective Welfare based on National Standards discounting the Characteristics of Seoul

The previous welfare policy did not address the city’s needs. It was part of the national policy, which was based on selective welfare strategies.
Seoul is a high density metropolitan area. Prices are higher here than in any other part of the country. Housing and education are good examples. The national basic livelihood security program, the most representative social welfare program in the country, does not consider that. The national standard is based on situations in a mid-size city in Korea, the basic conditions of which are quite different from those of Seoul.
As a result, 290,000 citizens who fall far below the poverty line are not eligible for any form of government assistance. That equals more than half of the total number of people below the poverty line, 500,000, in Seoul.

Low Satisfaction with Welfare Policies Made without Social Consensus

More significantly, welfare policies have never been made with a social consensus. The result is welfare policies that welfare benefit recipients are not content with.
Social fabrics have changed quite dramatically here. More people are in need of government assistance. Citizens demand more sophisticated forms of welfare, yet the city administration closes their eyes and ears, producing policies for them without their involvement.
When citizens were invited to get involved, the purposes were to monitor or evaluate policies already in place.

Citizens could not sympathize with or approve of the policies made without their input.
Furthermore, welfare policies were changed often and quickly, frustrating those in need, who often expected something that was not forthcoming.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Presenting Clear Welfare Directions for the City of Seoul

The new city administration of Seoul has prepared new welfare directions for the city and named the document the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards. These standards are a new charter that asserts welfare benefits are a basic right of citizens. They are the guidelines for any future welfare policies of the city. The standards present the goals of Seoul’s welfare programs in five major areas on a minimum level and on a proper level, respectively:

1. Income Standard
- Minimum Standard : The minimum income level needed to live a healthy, cultural life in Seoul.
- Decent Standard : A household income of more than 50% of the median household income in the city.

2. Housing Standard
- Minimum Standard: A rent payment less than 30% of one’s income. A living space of more than 43㎡ for a 4-person household.
- Decent Standard: A rent payment less than 25% of one’s income. A living space of more than 54㎡ for a 4-person household.

3. Care Standard
- Minimum Standard: Child/senior care expenses not exceeding 10% of the household income.
- Decent Standard: The child/senior care services available within 10 minutes. The care quality equals to the average of OECD countries.

4. Health Standard
- Minimum Standard: No citizen not receiving medical services for economic or geographical reasons.
- Decent Standard: The citizens’ health level above the OECD average. Regional health gaps to be eliminated.

5. Education Standard
- Minimum Standard: Educational costs to be reduced. Every citizen will enjoy the basic right to a school age.
- Decent Standard: The quality of mandatory education to be upgraded to the OECD average. Adults’ life-long educational opportunities to be expanded.

In the future, the welfare policies will be aimed at achieving the welfare goals specified in the standards. Also, welfare policies will be evaluated against the benchmark figures in the standards.

Elimination of Welfare Blind Spots and Shift to a Universal Welfare Regime

One of the central points of the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards is providing citizens with an income level that meets ‘the minimum cost of living’ in the city. The city government is now able to support 190,000 needy people whose income falls below ‘the minimum cost of living.’
Welfare benefits were selective in Korea. Now they are universal. Examples are ‘Living Wages,’ ‘Free Environment-friendly School Lunches’ and ‘24-Hour Medical Care Hospitals,’ which apply to all the citizens of the city.

The First Welfare Policies made through Citizens’ Participation & Social Consensus

Most encouraging is that citizens actively participated in the policy making processes for the first time in Korea. They had a variety of opportunities to take part through a diversity of communication means and occasions. Citizens’ opinions were collected by welfare expert researchers and reflected in the new policies.
For instance, a total of 1,000 citizens were invited to participate in ‘the 1,000-person roundtable’ to get input into and discuss the new standards. They all agreed that it was good to have a chance to give their opinions about the city’s future welfare policies and it was also good that their opinions were considered on the spot as important as those from the citizens committee which had been formulating their ideas for months.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
Suggestions & Requests of Civic Society to Establish the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards

The Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards are not a single person’s idea. Civic society including grassroots organizations in the country had been asking for a standard for years. In 2010, the Seoul City Council presented a policy proposal regarding standards for Seoul’s welfare programs.
The consensus was that the National Basic Livelihood Security Program remain a form of public assistance; however, the government’s passive interpretation of the citizens’ social rights protected by the constitution needed to be redefined from the citizens’ perspectives.
They also agreed that the welfare program for Seoul citizens must reflect the city’s characteristics and that the national standard should not be applied to Seoul.

The Current Mayor Promoting the Policy as the Key Issue

The civic society’s requests for improvements in welfare programs were not fulfilled in the city because historically mayors wanted to focus on more impressive construction projects and achieve an ostentatious urban development. A by-election for the mayorship in November 2011 turned out to be a turning point for the history of Seoul.
Improvements in welfare benefits became a campaign issue that no candidate could afford to turn away from. All the candidates pledged to come up with a new welfare standard if elected.
Candidate Park Won-soon, a social justice and human rights activist, put the establishment of the welfare standards at the top of his campaign pledges. When elected, Mayor Park began to promote it as one of his key policy priorities.

Experts, Citizens and Public Servants Joined Forces for the New Standards

To set up the Seoul welfare standards, a promotion committee was formed with the participation of experts, citizens and civil servants. It was an effort to converge private and public governance in promoting a critical matter. The new standards will affect the lives of many citizens. Therefore, it was important to have many citizens participate in the standards preparation processes. The process was as important as the content. The committee decisions were made only through a consensus among the members. Besides, the committee continued to seek the opinions of other citizens outside the committee through both online and offline channels.

Collaboration with District Offices and Central Government for a Consensus

When the welfare standards are finalized, it is the civil servants of the 25 autonomous districts of Seoul that will implement them. To ensure successful policy implementation, the city government held meetings with chiefs and vice chiefs of all the district offices. The Citizen Monitoring Group included some district civil servants to reflect their opinions in the standards.
In the meantime, the cooperation of the central government was critical in the city’s realization of the new welfare standards. The city of Seoul had consultation meetings with the Ministry of Health and Welfare in charge of national welfare policies prior to the proclamation of the new standards. It informed the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the progress.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Minimum and Proper Welfare Levels for Five Major Areas

The ultimate purpose of the Seoul Citizen’s Welfare Standards was ‘Offering Hope for the Future and Making Today’s Life Comfortable.’
Therefore, the standards were aimed at upgrading all citizens’ lives in all walks of life in areas such as income, housing, child/senior care, health and education by making not only a minimum standard but also a proper standard to meet the quality of Seoul’ level.

An Arrangement of the Framework for Social Consensus on Creating Standards based on Citizens’ Input

The city of Seoul worked hard to draw as much social agreement on the standards as possible. Citizens, civic groups, experts and officials have all closely cooperated from start to finish. An important key to the approach was the participation by as many citizens as possible in all stages concerned.

(1) A Collaborative Governance System among Experts, Citizens and Officials
The Welfare Standards Promotion Committee was formed to present the directions and contents of the standards. It was a joint governance organization between the public and private sectors.
It was co-headed by the mayor, the city council chairman and a citizen representative and it was composed of 65 experts, citizens and public officials. As much as the expertise was cherished, citizens’ input was also highly valued. The academic experts in the committee, who had been very much interested in securing citizens’ social rights, supported the organization with academic knowledge and research.

(2) Direct Participation and Opinions Presentation by Citizens through Various Means
The most important players in the standards preparation work were citizens. Citizens participated in the entire process in multiple ways: through Internet bulletin boards, policy workshops and the 1,000 person roundtable.

Customized Projects to Realize Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards

To realize the upgraded welfare standards, the committee came up with 102 projects to implement. The selection was made through experts’ academic research, officials’ practicality reviews and citizens’ opinion presentations. The following are a couple of major project examples in each of the five areas.

(1) Income: Elimination of Welfare Blind Spots and Job Creation
Seoul will adopt its own basic livelihood security program. 190,000 citizens living with an income below the minimum cost of living will be covered by the new program. 152,000 new jobs will be created for youth, seniors and females through the city’s job creation program which focuses on creating high quality and appropriate employment for these people.

(2) Housing: Securing More Rental Housing & Housing Subsidies for the Needy
The city of Seoul will increase the rental housing ratio to 10%. It will expand housing subsidies through housing vouchers. It will also carry out energy efficiency housing improvement projects for the needy.

(3) Care: More Public Day Care Centers & Increased Benefits for the Elderly and the Disabled
The city of Seoul will increase the ratio of public day care centers to 30%. It will pay for long-term care insurance and adult daycare services in full. Seoul will offer support to 600 disabled persons who are exempt from government protection at the current moment.

(4) Health: More Public Health Centers & More Emergency Health Care Services
The city of Seoul will increase public health center branches to 75. It will secure 430 beds in 24-hour care hospitals. It will help 100 clinics run 24/7.

(5) Education: Protection of the Right to Education for Children and Adults Alike
The city of Seoul will grant a subsidy to schools for classroom materials and expand the free school meal service to all primary and middle school students in the city. It will offer 600 free cyber courses, available on both computers and mobile devices, for life-long adult education

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Work on the Seoul Citizen’s Welfare Standards began at the beginning of 2012. The first meeting was held between city officials and some invited specialists in January. They agreed that citizens must participate in the preparation of the standards.

(1) February 2012: Citizen Participation & Launch of the Private-Public Governance Organization

On February 14, 2012, the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards Promotion Committee was formed with 65 members in five subcommittees. The participant included officials, city councilors, academics, researchers and citizens from a variety of fields like gender equality activism, ‘village’ building campaigns and the protection of the disabled.
On the same day, the City Hall website opened a special space for citizens to present their ideas on the welfare standards.

(2) April 2012: Draft Completion & Citizen Monitoring Group

On April 10, 2012, the standards draft was completed after the work began on February 1, 2012. Citizens were able to express their opinions more actively and officials were able to review the practicality of the projects presented in the document. On April 17, 2012, a citizen monitoring group was launched with 220 citizens including some government officials from district offices. It was named the Seoul Welfare Meari (Echo) Group.
The citizens in the group came from all walks of life were all volunteers.

(3) May 2012: Citizens’ Input on the Draft

In May 2012, there were six ‘Policy Listening Workshops (intended to hear the opinions of the citizens on city policies)’ on the five areas of income, housing, care, health and education. A total of 594 citizens participated in the workshops and made 278 proposals. The draft reflected their input.

(4) August 2012: A 1,000-person Roundtable proving the Possibility of Direct Democracy in Seoul

On August 9, 2012, a total of 1,075 citizens flocked to the Olympic Fencing Stadium in Seoul. They volunteered through the city government website to participate in the meeting. Those who packed the stadium had heated discussions at tables, presented their welfare project ideas and then voted on the priority of various project ideas.
Participants expressed their ideas freely in the form of ‘brainwriting.’ They voted with their individual ARS (automatic response system) with the immediate results showing on a huge screen at the site.
It was an occasion that proved the point that a direct democracy type of decision making, which seemed impossible in a megacity, is possible. Ten key projects were selected for the new welfare standards of the city in 5 categories such as income, housing, care, health and education.

(5) October 2012: The Announcement of the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards

On October 22, 2012, ‘the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards’ were completed. Pointing out that it was a historic moment and a huge turning point in the welfare programs of the city, Mayor Park Won-soon announced the completion of the standards, explaining how the standards were made as well as what the main contents were. The day’s event was held with the participants from the 1,000-person roundtable held in August 2012. It was broadcast live on TV and the Internet. The Seoul City Government published books describing these processes and the content of ‘the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standard’, and provided them to major bookstores and libraries.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Obstacle 1: Difficulty setting up Innovative yet Practical Welfare Standards

It was difficult to find a compromise between the necessity to dramatically improve the welfare level of the city and the actual budgetary constraints of the municipal government. If too many missteps occur, the standards will remain a declaration, not a reality.
Welfare experts presented optimal measures to address the welfare issues of the city once and for all. City officials, however, had to consider the fiscal implications of the new measures and their unintended potential side effects.

⇒ Solutions: 162 Meetings & Priorities set by Citizens

The gap between ideals and reality was narrowed down through 162 meetings and the input of citizens. The promotion committee tried to keep a balance between welfare experts and welfare officials. The committee held general workshops where all the members participated. Inter-subcommittee meetings were also held every two weeks for the adjustment of the subcommittees’ different interests. Each of the five areas was discussed in a separate policy workshop. Priorities were set at the 1,000-person roundtable by the citizens’ voting.

Obstacle 2: Community Public Relations and Securing Cooperation with other Agencies

The second obstacle was communication: At the very least, the public needed to be informed of the major contents. Cooperation with a few other agencies was also necessary. Regarding the former, the city government could not count on expensive advertising campaigns.

⇒ Solution: Diverse Types of Publicity & Multiple Contacts with Agencies

The city of Seoul mobilized various types of publicity to inform the citizens of the fact that it was working on new welfare standards and the major contents to be included in them. Electronics signage was used. BI (Brand Identity) posters were posted on street kiosks (225 posters), street shoe repair shops (259 posters), city buses (974 posters) and subway cars (1,200 posters).
In the meantime, the welfare standards concerned the central government, district offices, the city council and supervisory offices of education. As a successful implementation of welfare standards needs the cooperation of these agencies, the city government had had multiple contacts with all these different concerned parties: It had seven meetings with the central government (the Ministry of Strategy and Finance and the Ministry of Health and Welfare), two meetings with 25 district offices, six meetings with the offices of education and a number of contacts with the City Council. The city held meetings with its own officials twice to explain about the contents of the standards. The city government did its best to communicate with all the concerned parties well in advance.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards were completed with the input of a minimum level of fiscal resources and a maximum level of human and technical resources. Fiscally, research expenses and office operation costs were all that the city had to pay. The rest was done through the voluntary services of many citizens and experts.

Human Resources: Volunteers to Create the New Standards

The standards were successfully prepared through the sacrifices of volunteers including 65 members of the standards promotion committee, 27 expert researchers, 47 city officials, 220 members of the Seoul Welfare Meari (Echo) Group, 1,075 participants in the 1,000-person roundtable, 594 attendees in Policy Listening Workshops and 354 netizens who offered their opinions online.
Notably, candidates for the Seoul Welfare Meari (Echo) Group had to go through a competition of two to one. Without any financial compensation, they participated in the meetings of the promotion committee, studied the standards under discussion and posted their points of view on the Internet cafe ( set up on the Naver portal site.
In addition, the 1,000-person roundtable meeting that played a key role in completing the standards would not have succeeded without the devotion of its operations committee members, who were town hall meeting researchers, volunteers, officials of the Seoul association of social welfare centers and staff from events companies. For two months, they donated their talent and time to this experiment in direct democracy called a 1,000-person roundtable.

Technical Resources: Online Systems and Experts that Collected & Reviewed Citizens’ Thoughts along with Officials’ Contributions of Knowledge & Experiences

It was the online system that enabled active participation by citizens. At the outset, a café was set up at the portal site, ‘Daum.’ Citizens were able to post their opinions on the café or the website for the municipal government to review. A total of 354 opinions were posted. Officials collected and delivered them to expert researchers who used the ideas in the draft they were working on.
Participants for the Seoul Welfare Meari (Echo) Group, the Policy Workshops and the Roundtable Meeting were all recruited online. Their proposals and discussions were done mainly online as well.
No doubt, without the efforts of the experts and the representatives of civic groups equipped with knowledge and expertise about social rights, among others, the welfare standards could not have been completed successfully. Also, the civil servants’ administrative knowledge and policy review efforts, from various departments of the municipal government, played a critical role in the successful completion of the standards.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Korea’s First Welfare Standards expected to Advance the Nation’s Welfare Level

Korea has lacked a written guideline for its welfare policies. The constitutional right to a decent life remained just a declaration because no details followed. The Seoul Citizen’s Welfare Standards were the nation’s first attempt to specify the constitutional declaration. The major contents of the standards will likely help the central government and other provincial and municipal government determine their directions for welfare policies.
For years, everyone was talking about the necessity of setting up welfare standards reflecting the characteristics of each region. The Seoul welfare standards were the first to emerge. The central and other local governments will be pressured to come up with their own welfare standards reflecting their own characteristics. Such efforts to come up with their own welfare standards will end up advancing the actual welfare of the Korean people as a whole.

Domestic and International Attention on Policy Decision Processes Cherishing Citizens’ Participation & Social Consensus

In this policy area, the city of Seoul has not followed the traditional bureaucratic approach. It set up a new governance system where citizens joined forces with civil servants. It is notable that so many citizens volunteered to help, a first in the history of the country’s welfare policies. In particular, the 1,000-person roundtable that gave the final say in everything about standards has received significant attention at home and abroad because it has now been shown that by using technology megacities can pursue direct democracy for the benefit of their citizens.

Other Local Governments Benchmarking for their own Welfare Standards

As soon as the city of Seoul announced its new welfare standards on October 22, 2012, the city of Daejeon and the city of Nonsan began benchmarking all the processes and contents in order to prepare for their own welfare standards. On November 15, 2012, Seongbuk and Nowon Districts of Seoul began to prepare for the implementation of ‘the Living Wage System (paying more than the national minimum wage)’ by forming a task force team called Living Wage Promotion Committee with the participation of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy. The promotion of a new minimum level of wages is one of the core projects advocated by the new welfare standards.
More local governments in the country will establish their own welfare standards and implement the projects specified in the Seoul Welfare Standards. When an English report on the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards is published in February 2013, numerous cities in foreign countries will pay attention, too.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
The Crux of Seoul City Policies has shifted from Development to the Welfare of its People

Through the announcement of the new welfare standards, the city of Seoul has had a paradigm shift regarding welfare. Both welfare providers and receivers have begun to see welfare as a universal right, not a favor granted by the government. The fundamental directions of the city administration have changed. As a consequence, Seoul’s welfare budget will account for more than 30% of the city budget in 2013. Priority of the city administration has clearly shifted to welfare.

Spread of the Recognition that Citizen Participation is Mandatory in Seoul City’s Policy Decision Making Processes

Citizens were deeply involved in the preparation of the new welfare standards. Other policy making processes have followed suit. Now the city of Seoul takes it for granted that it is imperative to set up a private-public governance system when developing major new policies. It now sets up policies with citizens, mobilizing various communications means so that citizens can get involved easily.
Outside evaluations have been that the Seoul Citizens’ Welfare Standards are the country’s first welfare criteria forged through a consensus reached with the citizens and that the city promoted citizens’ direct participation more actively than ever, boosting ‘the vitality of the city administration.’
According to a survey done by the Hankyoreh Institute for Social Policy issued on November 5, 2012, 25.3% of the respondents said the increased participation of citizens is the most outstanding change in the city’s governance in the first year of the city’s new administration. This survey was a positive comment on the preparatory processes of the new welfare standards.
A citizen who participated in the 1,000-person roundtable commented on these new processes, “This is the government of the citizens, for the citizens. I have seen hope”.

The Key: Make Policies with Citizens to Succeed in Securing a Social Consensus

In the past, the city of Seoul announced its welfare policies and the media and civic organizations criticized them. Implementation was difficult because of the resistance from stakeholders. However, the new welfare standards have met no negative comments in the media or by any institutions or individuals thanks to the processes in which the citizens themselves were stakeholders.
It is considered as a main factor that the city administration set up and adopted innovative channels of citizens’ active participation such as the 1,000-person roundtable, the policy workshops, and the Seoul Welfare Meari (Echo) Group.

Continued Cooperation with Citizens in the Implementation Stages and Fulfillment of the New Welfare Standards

The city of Seoul will develop an evaluation system with its citizens, against which the implementation progress of the new standards will be assessed. The Seoul Welfare Meari Group will keep on playing their monitoring role in the implementation phases, too. The city will continue to seek citizens’ suggestions and opinions through innovative arrangements including public idea contests on the Internet.
The implementation results will be compared to the milestones specified in the standards and will be disclosed to the citizens. The standards can be modified and upgraded in the future if the reality of Seoul demands so. In the end, the welfare goals that the city has just specified in its new welfare standards will be met and the quality of life of the citizens of Seoul will significantly improve.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Welfare Policy Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   SeongRyong Kim
Title:   action officer  
Telephone/ Fax:   82-2-2133-7332
Institution's / Project's Website:   82-2-2133-0718
Address:   110, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea
Postal Code:   100-744
City:   Seoul

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