Since the economic crisis of 1997-98, the Republic of Korea has carried out vigorous social policy initiatives including the reform of National Pension Programme and the National Health Insurance. This paper seeks to answer whether the Korean welfare state has moved beyond the welfare developmentalism by examining the cases of those two programmes. By the reform, the coverage of the National Pension Programme was extended to all population; its financial sustainability and accountability were enhanced. Regarding National Health Insurance, efficiency reform was taken in the management structure, while the reform regarding the financing was on hold. These reforms were in clear contrast to the welfare developmentalism that used to place overwhelming emphasis on economic considerations. Despite these reforms, however, the Republic of Koreas welfare state faces the issues of ineffectual implementation and lack of financial sustainability of social policy. The National Pension Programme has failed to cover the majority of irregular workers, whose numbers are on the increase, and National Health Insurance needs to find a way to meet increasing health expenditure.
The author is at present Research Coordinator with the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) while on leave from Sung Kyun Kwan University, Seoul. He has published books and articles on East Asian social policy including recent paper, Globalization, unemployment and policy responses in Korea, in Global Social Policy, 2001, Vol. 1, No. 2. This paper is based on the ongoing UNRISD project, Social policy in a development context.