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Gov't ponders unmarried single parents' tax deduction; criticism of income limit remains

TOKYO -- The government and ruling coalition parties are moving toward expanding the "widow's deduction" system under tax system revision for fiscal 2019 to newly cover unmarried single parents, but the planned cap on the income of the households allowed to claim the deduction is being criticized as unfair.

The tax revision to expand the number of households eligible for the deduction is considered a measure against child poverty by including low-income single-parent households where the parent is unmarried. However, some are calling the move to put an income restriction on single parents with no marriage history unfair. In addition, the government is also considering making single parents in common-law marriages ineligible for the tax deduction regardless of their income bracket.

The "widow's tax deduction" system was introduced in 1951 to support women who had lost their husbands to World War II. Single parents who have lost their legally married spouse to death or divorce can have a set amount deducted from their taxable incomes as part of measures to alleviate their financial burden. Single mothers who had been married before can apply the tax deduction regardless of their income, and single fathers with annual incomes of 5 million yen or less are also eligible. Even if these individuals enter into a common-law marriage after the death of or divorce from their spouse, they can still apply the tax deduction.

In expanding the system to a greater number of households, the government and the ruling coalition are considering adding individuals who became single parents without a legal marriage. However, within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), there is dissatisfaction with the plan on the grounds that including unmarried parents goes against traditional family values that put an emphasis on parents being married.

However, junior ruling coalition partner Komeito is positive about the addition. A senior member of the party's tax research commission said, "We have no choice but to convince the LDP from the perspective of addressing child poverty." The party hopes to push through the proposal by limiting application to low-income households and making common-law couples with children unable to claim the deduction.

According to the government and ruling parties' policy, the income restriction for taking the deduction will vary based on the marriage history of the single parents.

"I wish they would treat all single parents equally," lamented an unmarried single mother in her 40s living in Kyushu in southern Japan. The woman was subject to domestic violence at the hands of her fiance while she was pregnant, and escaped their shared residence. She gave birth without ever being legally married. In order to secure time for her third-grade elementary school son's treatment for a serious illness, the woman gave up on working as a regular employee at a company, and currently makes ends meet with part-time work that only pays a little over 100,000 yen per month.

"It doesn't make any sense that I am ineligible for the tax deduction simply because I was never legally married," she said. Last November, she began gathering signatures online, and at the end of this October, she submitted over 23,000 signatures to the related government ministries and agencies as well as the top officials of the ruling parties' tax research commissions.

"If the system stays as it is, then even if you get divorced the day after you turn in your marriage notification papers, you are eligible for the tax deduction," the woman emphasized. "As far as a child is concerned, how their parent came to be a single parent doesn't matter. Whether by death, divorce or being unmarried, it doesn't change the fact these households need support."

Another unmarried mother in her 40s in the Tokyo metropolitan area echoed her statements, and called for the system to be applied uniformly. "Limiting (the availability of the tax deduction) to 'low-income households' only for unmarried single parents creates a double standard compared to the current system (free of income brackets) and inequality still remains," she said.

(Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Medical Welfare News Department)

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