1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

The Economic Crisis and the Politics of Welfare Reform in Korea (Draft)



Since the economic crisis of 1997-98, Korea has witnessed a rapid expansion of the welfare state following a series of reforms. This paper examines the reform policies on income maintenance programmes for the unemployed and the poor, in the public health care system, including the reform of National Health Insurance and the policy for redefining the work of health care professionals. It tries to answer why these reforms went beyond the functional minima necessary to cope with social problems caused by the economic crisis. This paper pays particular attention to the advocacy coalition of the welfare-idealists, who were the driving force behind such reforms. At this historical juncture of the economic crisis, the advocacy coalition of the welfare-idealists successfully grabbed a number of strategic points of decision making, including the presidential office. This is an illuminating contrast with the welfare-idealists of the past, who were few, scattered in the different ministries and universities, and unable to form an effective advocacy coalition. The present-day welfare-idealists who share the same beliefs are different from their predecessors in that they have been prepared to take to the street, engage in legal disputes with the government, interfere with strikes by trade unionists, and to implement a strategic plan in pursing their policy. More importantly, however, President Kim needed the welfare-idealists in order to carry out structural reforms, and to win the general election. This ultimately provided the advocacy coalition of the welfare-idealists with the strategic edge to produce the policy outputs they wanted.

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