Liberté, égalité, fraternité
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Seoul City paves way for a South Korean Welfare Model

Image caption: “The lives of our youth cannot be annulled” – Seoul Metropolitan City’s Youth Benefit Scheme! An investment for the future.

Social Welfare. Gangnam Style.

The Seoul Metropolitan City (henceforth, “Seoul”) is paving its own path of social welfare beta-tests in a nation seldom recognised for social safety nets. South Koreans have been persistently demanding improvements in social welfare – notably the younger generations. The younger they are, the more they know that change is possible (See: Korea Exposé’s article on the Sewol Generation).

Despite the progress in social development made by the two consecutive progressive governments of Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008) and Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003), such as the inauguration of the Ministry of Gender Equality and of the Human Rights Commission of Korea in 2001, a conservative turn in the 2008 elections set South Korea down a neo-liberal, pro-corporate road with presidents Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013) and the now impeached/imprisoned Park Geun-hye (2013-2017). (Interestingly, Park’s transitional cabinet included Prof. Ahn Sang-hoon of Seoul National University, who has extensively studied the Swedish model of social welfare, and continues to advocate for a “Korean social welfare model”).

Free Lunch Rules (Or: How a Mayor Came to Be Elected Over Free School Lunches)

How Park Won-soon, current mayor of Seoul City, came to be elected, is an interesting (and sad) and hilarious story. The previous mayor Oh Se-hoon (2006-2011), had been at heads with the City Council and Superintendent of Education for Seoul City (Gwak Roh-hyun) about how to provide free lunches at schools. Oh pushed to have only 30% of all school children’s meals free (with plans to extend this to 50% by 2014), while the City Council and Superintendent advocated for a free-for-all scheme. The City Council eventually passed legislation for the free-for-all scheme. Then-mayor Oh vetoed the decision. Then the City Council vetoed his veto and went through with the scheme anyway. I know you’re losing track here.

Eventually, then-mayor Oh Se-hoon decided to put the free lunch scheme to a referendum, adding that he would step down if his he lost the vote. Which he did. Because the voter turnout was so low, the Council’s decision was upheldSince 2012, all primary and middle school lunches are free in the city of Seoul (Mandatory education ending at middle school).

The Youth Benefit Scheme: An Ambitious Yet Cautious Move

In 2016, Seoul Metropolitan City’s government decided they would roll out the Youth Benefit Scheme. However, the Ministry of Health and Welfare decide to annul the programme a day later the City began rolling out payments (“직권 취소”, or “direct ruling to annul”). The reasoning? The City government did not follow procedure.

Seoul City’s project marks a significant step in a country which continues to see high youth unemployment rates.

Along with the Youth Benefit Scheme, the city government runs 8 job-seeking seminars at the Seoul Youth Guarantee Center (서울시청년활동지원센터) under the category “내일탐구” (“Searching for Tomorrow”):

  1. #.취오해: ‘취업의 오해를 풀어드립니다.’
    Helping you resolve misconceptions about job-seeking (i.e. Should I work for a conglomerate, or start working at an SME and then move to a conglomerate as an experienced worker?)

  2. #.직무학습: ‘이 일이 내 일 일까?’
    Helping you find the right line of work (i.e. marketing, sales, HR, accounting, CSR…)

  3. #.현직자사람책: ‘그 일을 하면 어떤 삶을 살까?’
    Having people in your desired line of work talk to you about how they landed their job and how they experience their working life

  4. #.현직자멘토링: ‘좋은 선배 만나고 싶다.’
    Having the opportunity to ask anything to people in my desired line of work

  5. #.자기정리: ‘자기 정리가 필요해’
    Helping you structure your life story, so you can prepare mentally for your job-seeking process

  6. #.자소서글쓰기: ‘자기소개서 1도 모르겠습니다만’
    Helping you write a resume/CV and giving you one-on-one feedback

  7. #.면접스피치: ‘면접만 들어가면 머리는 백지장’
    Helping you prepare for a job interview through voice coaching, attitude adjustment, mock interviews and feedback on video recordings of your mock interviews

  8. #.취업포트폴리오: ‘나를 브랜딩 해볼까?’
    How to find your brand and to create your job-seeking portfolio

In addition, the Youth Guarantee Center runs support groups for those on the Youth Benefit Scheme – where young people meet up with those living in their neighbourhood to discuss their goals and dreams. The Center also has 4 group counseling programmes in order to help those who are under pressure from their job-seeking life. Unrelated to job-seeking, the Center runs 7 programmes where young people can learn more about gender equality in relationships, basics of labour law, difficulty in finding accommodation in the city, politics,  art, and even a programme where people can travel together.


Youth unemployment rate (gray line) and number of unemployed youth (yellow bar). Source: Statistics Korea

Hard facts:

  • How many people will be selected? 7,000 Seoul youth (3,000 in 2016)
  • Eligibility:
    • Must not be currently enrolled at a college or university, or in their final semester
    • Must be between 19 and 29 years old
    • Must not be working for more than 30 hours per week
    • Must not have previously received Youth Benefits
  • Duration: 2 – 6 months
  • Amount: 500,000 KRW per month (About 380 EUR / 460 USD / 330 GBP)
  • How is the money received? In a Woori Bank debit card
  • For what can people use the funds? For living costs (food, transport, telecommunications) and for job-seeking expenses (exam registration costs, course enrollment costs, transport to/from job-related exams and interviews, etc.)
    • Interestingly, is had to be specified that recipients may not use funds at top-tier hotels, casinos, bars, and massage parlours (often synonymous for prostitution services).


청년수당이 바꾼 청년의 삶 (Young Koreans' Lives Changed by Youth Benefits). 
14 March 2018. SisaIN Magazine. 

Youth Benefit Scheme webpage (Korean). Seoul Metropolitan Government. 
Accessed 19 March 2018.

The Sewol Generation: Young South Koreans Open Their Eyes to Politics.
20 November 2016. Jun Michael Park.

‘박근혜·유시민 복지론’ 밑그림 제공 안상훈 서울대 교수 인터뷰 
(An Interview with Ahn Sang-hoon, the SNU Professor Who Provided Blueprint
for Park Geun-hye and Rhyu Si-min's Social Policy)
02 April 2011. Cho Tae-Sung. Seoul News.

지난해 못 받은 청년수당 지금 신청하세요
(Apply For Last Year's Youth Benefit Scheme)
12 September 2017. Song Ok-jin. Hankook News.

취업자 수/실업률 추이
(Trends in Number of Employed Citizens and Unemployment Rates)
Accessed 21 March 2018. Statistics Korea

프로그램 안내
(Introducing Programmes at the Seoul Youth Guarantee Center)
Accessed 21 March 2018. Seoul Metropolitan Government.

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Internationally lost since 2000, Emily was born in Seoul, raised in India, and has been living and studying in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands since 2014. A translator and interpreter by profession, she enjoys talking and debating just about anything.

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