How citizens cope with high cost of living in Seoul, Korea

Night scene at one of the busy streets in Seoul, Korea.
Night scene at one of the busy streets in Seoul, Korea.

The high cost of living that includes expensive apartment rentals,  transportation, food and medication are amongst the main concerns of residents living in the metropolitan city of Seoul, Korea.

With a population over 10 million, Seoul  as one of the leading metropolises in the world has been looking desperately for solutions to its many pressing social, economic and environmental problems.

The most important question is whether the Seoul residents are earning enough income and have ample savings to maintain their  livelihood in such big city.

According to Seoul  Innovation Report issued by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, many people have realised the cost of living in Seoul is getting higher while their salaries are unchanged,  putting added strain on citizens with financial difficulties.

To relieve this burden on citizens, the report said, Seoul Metropolitan Government has developed the “Seoul –type Living Wage System,” which guarantees a minimum wage level that ensures low-income households are able to maintain their quality of life in all areas.

In order to calculate minimum living wage, Seoul City developed a “Three Person Household Spending Model” based on average living costs, educational expenses and inflation rates for a one-year period.

Young people occupying most parts of the city of Seoul at night.
Young people occupying most parts of the city of Seoul at night.

The new policy was implemented in January 2015 on a trial basis and is now waiting to be applied retroactively from 2016 with an hourly wage KRW7,145 which is 19 percent higher than the award wage (KRW6,030) for approximately 1,260 workers employed by Seoul Metropolitan Government and government funded institutions.

Seoul Metropolitan Government is always alert on local issues faced by the city residents. To ensure the best solutions are applied to any issue, it has opened the “Mayor’s On-Site Offices’’ in a number of districts with major or pending problems.

At these on-site offices, discussions and dialogues with residents are held. The Mayor of Seoul goes to all the offices in person to make observations and resolve local problems.

The Mayor’s On-Site Office policy is the result of a shift in the focus of the city government, greater importance on the on-site administration.

According to the report, in Seoul, it  is difficult and expensive to secure reliable, continuous  home care services for family members who may be sick or injured. To address this issue, Seoul Metropolitan Government  is operating  380 Seoul Medical Centres and  51 Dongbu Hospitals and providing free home care services to about 190,000 citizens. These services are valued about KRW 6 billion.

The medical centres, hospitals and services operated by the city offer reliable medical care from nursing professionals on a 24 hour a day basis.

Small scale entrepreneur in one of the streets in Seoul.
Small scale entrepreneur in one of the streets in Seoul, Korea

The rapid urbanisation in Seoul has also resulted in the economic rise and relationship between communities and residents have been weakened or broken altogether, thus causing major social issues such as high suicide rate and the increasing number of elderly people who are dying alone.

In the hope of resolving such problems and rebuilding social networks among citizens, the government has been pursuing projects that aim to support various neighbourhood communities in the city.

These projects involve not only resolving issues between neighbours but increasing the voluntary participation of residents in local cooperatives and  community-based  economic activities and fostering the unique cultures of communities in Seoul.

The goal is to make these neighbourhoods feel the places to live are more comfortable with hospitable surroundings. Currently, residents are gradually taking on leadership roles in the Neighbourhood Community Project.

Based on these three core values of “people-oriented, local and process-centred” Seoul is ardently pursuing community project to improve the living conditions of

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