Changing face of Taiwan's welfare net

Changing face of Taiwan's welfare net
One of the lunch-together sessions for senior citizens in New Taipei City. The activity is organised throughout the Taiwanese city, as well as in the capital Taipei and Tainan municipality, where the idea first came up.

Madam Lin Yu-min is 76 but sounds 20 years younger when she talks about the highlight of her days: having lunch with other senior citizens in her neighbourhood in New Taipei City.

"I've made many friends here and I'm happy. I don't feel so old anymore," said Madam Lin of the lunch-together sessions at the neighbourhood activity centre in Yonghe district.

Every day, elderly residents bring their own food to the centre where they socialise over meals. Often, the district chief gives talks on healthy living.

Madam Lin has been to "countless" lunch sessions since joining this year. The activity is organised throughout New Taipei City, as well as in Taipei, the capital, and Tainan municipality, where the idea first came up 10 years ago.

Mr Tan Nai-cheng, the official in charge of the programme at Tainan's municipal government, said: "Some old people can't stand to be alone even for a few hours. A scheme like this helps them feel the concern of society."

The scheme is also an example of a new set of municipal social welfare initiatives catering to the very young and the elderly, on top of existing measures which mostly hand out cash subsidies.

The trend reflects President Ma Ying-jeou's emphasis on building a happier and more equitable society through improving the welfare net. In August, the government released its first annual "national happiness index", which ranked Taiwan 19th among 35 of the most advanced economies in the world.

In recent years, the island's five municipalities have adopted innovative ideas to promote the well-being of both young and old.

In New Taipei City, the most populous locality with almost four million residents, the government pays for organic vegetables to be added to the lunch boxes of some 330,000 primary and junior high school students for one day a week. The scheme started in the current academic year.

"Nowadays, people are becoming more concerned about food safety," said Ms Liu Shu-fen, spokesman for the municipality's agriculture department. "We produce a lot of organic food... so we thought this is a good way to promote healthier eating."

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