Government should prioritize most vulnerable groups when providing relief funds
The recent death of a small business owner who was on the brink of bankruptcy due to the guidelines instituted to combat the protracted COVID-19 pandemic has shocked and saddened society. With the highly contagious Delta variant forcing the prolongation of tight social distancing measures, limiting business hours and the size of private gatherings, it seems that the bar owner could not endure any longer and likely committed suicide. According to a report by the Yonhap News Agency, the 57-year-old self-employed, small business owner who had run a beer pub for 23 years was found dead in his one-room rented flat Sept. 7.
The deceased owner opened the beer pub in Mapo District in 1999 and once enjoyed a thriving business. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, his daily sales dropped below 100,000 won ($85), rendering him unable to pay the monthly rent of 10 million won along with his employees' wages. He vacated his one-room flat in order to provide salaries to his remaining employees before he was found dead. While the cause has not been confirmed, police believe that he killed himself. Hearing of his bleak reality, one has to ask what the role of the state is in this tragedy.
A year and seven months into the pandemic's outbreak, many traditional self-employed people have been driven to the bottom of society. Their profits have been halved, but fixed costs, including monthly rents and utility bills, remain the same. Hit hardest have been individual proprietors who have failed to adjust their businesses to the online platform-based delivery industry. Helping these people live without giving up hope should be the duty of the state.
Immediately after the government began to dole out pandemic relief funds of 250,000 won per person, more than 70,000 people who are on the border of meeting the criteria for falling ― within the lower 88% of country's overall income bracket ― have filed complaints. If the government accepts these, nearly 90 percent of Koreans will receive the relief money. Prior to this, however, the COVID-19 relief funds should have provided more substantive help to those who have taken the most severe blows to their livelihoods.
It would have been far better for the government to have limited the funds' recipients to the most vulnerable groups and increased the amount of the relief money in order to ease their difficulties. Some relatively well-to-do people have reportedly used the money towards buying expensive electronic goods or luxury bags. There should be no more unfortunate deaths of self-employed people struggling with the impact of the pandemic.