Here’s this week’s Media Mix about LDP lawmaker Tomomi Inada’s perceived shift to the center owing to her support for a tax revision that would provide deductions for single mothers who have never been married. As pointed out in the column, the real issue at stake in the deduction’s conception is whether people who are against it object due to the parent’s lifestyle choices and thus ignore the main point, which is to create a better environment for the child. As I mentioned, this issue becomes more pertinent in the matter of the child-rearing allowance, which is implemented by the central government but administered by local governments. Single parents whose income is below a certain level are eligible for government assistance for child-rearing purposes, though the amount differs for each child based on circumstances.
A Mainichi Shimbun article published last October outlined the difficulties that many single parents—read: single mothers—face when applying for the allowance. The questions on the form are quite invasive: Are you dating someone at the moment? What is this person’s name? Are you pregnant now? The local welfare office is trying to determine if the applicant is in a live-in relationship with another person whose own income would alter the calculus for determining assistance, though, in fact, this partner does not have to be living with the applicant. Any possible monetary assistance must be taken into account. NGOs that work with single parents have consistently objected to this line of inquiry, saying it is not only invasive but beside the point, since the assistance is supposed to go the child based on the child’s needs. Other questions on the form ask for details about the applicant’s interactions with a previous spouse, possible financial support from parents or siblings, and whether the single-family household receives gifts of clothing or food. Local governments say they are trying to prevent fraud, since the law states that persons in common law marriage-type relationships are ineligible, but the scope of the questions imply that the definition of common law relationships is quite broad. Some forms ask single mothers who have never been married to provide the names of the fathers of their children, though the welfare ministry insists this information is optional.
Moreover, once a single parent is approved for the allowance, she has to resubmit the form every year in order to report any changes to her situation, and not just in terms of her income. According to Mainichi’s investigation, these forms very rarely uncover improper activities. In 2017, the welfare ministry reported that 973,188 single parents had received the allowance, and while they didn’t report how many applications were declined, they said that only 0.1 percent of the cases were “overpaid.” Recipients interviewed for the article expressed annoyance at the busybody nature of the application process, which also can involve surprise home visits. One of the NGOs, Single Mothers Forum, which is mentioned in the column, are constantly checking on local governments’ procedures for the allowance and sending suggestions for improvements. And some have responded positively, so there is hope. Nevertheless, the whole idea of the application gives the impression that there are three kinds of single mothers: women with axes to grind against men, so-called kept women (or mistresses), and women who are purposely trying to swindle the government. In actuality, single mothers, regardless of their marital status or dating history, constitute one of the lowest paid demographics in the country, and their children suffer for it. If the alimony and child support structure was stronger, at least divorced mothers might have a better chance, but that isn’t the case. Joint custody would also be an improvement for divorced couples, though organizations like Single Mothers Forum tend to oppose joint custody, since many of the women they work with were in abusive relationships.