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Editorial: Welfare benefit cuts could worsen poverty among single-parent families

The government will slash livelihood assistance to help needy people cover their food and utility expenses by 16 billion yen a year, or approximately 1.8 percent. Additional allowances for single-parent families will also be cut by an average of 20 percent.

The child poverty rate in Japan stands at 13.9 percent, meaning that one in seven children lives in poverty. In particular, the poverty rate among children in single-parent families is high. The planned reduction in additional allowances for these families will further worsen their situation.

The levels of welfare benefits are reviewed every five years. Such aids were reduced up to 10 percent in the previous assessment shortly after the second administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was launched in December 2012. As a result of the latest review, the benefits will be lowered on a step-by-step basis over a three-year period from October 2018.

The Abe government is striving to transform the social security system into one that covers all generations. However, a policy that could place a further strain on children in the most impoverished families cannot be overlooked.

Bills to revise the Public Assistance Act and other relevant legislation, which the Abe Cabinet has approved, call for the provision of high-quality housing for elderly recipients of public welfare assistance, among other measures. They also included measures to help children in impoverished families advance to universities and vocational schools. Specifically, students who commute to higher education institutions while living with their parents would receive 100,000 yen and those who live alone would get 300,000 yen in lump-sum payments when they enter such schools. Financial support for students from disadvantaged families is important to end a cycle of poverty.

The problem is that livelihood assistance, which is allotted to everyday living expenses, will be lowered. Behind the move is criticism that households receiving public welfare assistance spend a relatively large amount of money. The employment rate among single mothers is relatively low, and critics point out that public welfare benefits are discouraging these people from working.

However, even ordinary households today tend to cut their spending to the maximum extent and save money out of concern about their future livelihoods. These people should not be simply compared with welfare recipients who cannot save money even if they desire to do so. There are also a large number of people who cannot work because they are ill or disabled.

One of the reasons the government seeks to trim the provision of welfare assistance benefits is because spending on such support has kept growing and topped 3 trillion yen a year, but the majority of households receiving welfare benefits are those comprising elderly people who have difficulty finding employment. Therefore, the government should face up to the fact that the state cannot help needy people simply by encouraging them to find jobs and gain financial self-reliance.

The number of senior citizens who have nobody to rely on will keep growing. Effective measures to support these people need to be swiftly implemented.

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