Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about welfare reform. Though the column was prompted by the Fukushima lawsuit that seems to have spurred the government to address the lack of educational opportunities for young people in families that receive assistance, the general thrust of the proposed reforms is that the government wants to save money. Some will get more in benefits, but the majority will get less. It should be noted that welfare ranks are increasing by the day, mainly among the elderly, so reductions are to be expected, but in many cases it is families with children who will see their income decrease. In particular, single parents—which in Japan means single mothers—will have a tougher time. On a recent posting on Blogos, Chieki Akaishi, the head of Single Mothers Forum, talked about the proposed welfare reductions and their specific effect on single mothers. After the proposals were covered by the media, she started receiving phone calls from single mothers who are worried about having their benefits cut. One was a woman with a sixth grade daughter who used to work full time but had to quit due to health problems. She’s fortunate in that a “relative” has allowed her to live in a house the relative owns, but nobody in her family helps her out financially. She receives the child welfare allowance (jido fuyo teate) and some other benefits, but it only amounts to ¥52,000 a month. She applied for livelihood support (seikatsu hogo) but the city official she talked to told her she would have to get rid of her car first. Formally, cars are allowed for welfare recipients but they have to prove that they only use them for taking children to the doctor and looking for work. The woman lives in a rural area and needs the car for other things that the city office does not deem necessary, such as shopping or driving her daughter to school. There are almost no buses where she lives, but still the city office deems her automobile to be “not essential” to her well-being. Akaishi volunteered to accompany the woman to the city office and help her negotiate in order to keep her car and still get the livelihood support, since she obviously qualifies for it. For some reason, the woman rejected the offer.
The woman’s situation is not that unusual, and for single mothers matters may, in fact, get worse. According to Tokyo Shimbun, as part of the government’s welfare reform the mother-child benefits (boshi kasan, which is mainly for single parent households) will be cut by an average of 20 percent. Also, assistance for children’s public education up to junior high school—money to buy supplies, etc.—will be “adjusted,” meaning specifically that the program will be expanded for high school students but curtailed for pre-school children. Opposition lawmakers have protested that the overall effect of these changes will confound efforts to “reduce childhood poverty” in Japan. It’s as if the government were giving something with one hand and taking something away with the other.