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Japan's impoverished hesitating to apply for welfare due to checks on kin

This photo shows a consultation area for people who have lost their homes or run into other difficulties amid the coronavirus pandemic at Okubo Park in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. A survey regarding social aid was conducted there. (Mainichi/Satoshi Tokairin)

TOKYO -- A system in which authorities phone the parents, siblings or other kin of people applying for welfare in Japan to check whether they can offer financial assistance is placing a psychological burden on applicants that causes some to hesitate to apply for social aid, a survey conducted by a group supporting the needy has found.

    Those familiar with the situation say that the system is hindering people from receiving livelihood protection payments, which are supposed to serve as their "final safety net."

    The survey was conducted by Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund, a group that provided meals to people in locations across Tokyo over the New Year period and consulted them about their livelihoods. The group received responses from 165 people. Around 90% of them were men, and their average age was 56.

    In the survey, 32 of the 59 people who were receiving welfare or had done so in the past, or 54.2%, said they had a feeling of hesitation when it came to receiving assistance. When 128 people who were not receiving welfare were asked why, with multiple answers permitted, the top response was "Because I don't want my family to know about it," given by 44 people, or 34.4%. When asked what changes would prompt them to use the system, the top answer, given by 51 people, or 39.8%, was "If my relatives didn't find out about it."

    As for the system to check with kin regarding support, the various responses included, "They're in the countryside, so my relatives will also find out about it," I don't want my own daughter to see me like this," and "I don't want to shock my elderly parents," hinting that the general pervading atmosphere was that receiving welfare was "shameful."

    Utilization of the person's ability to work and their personal savings are conditions for their receipt of livelihood protection aid, but receiving support from relatives is not a condition. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has notified authorities that it is unnecessary to contact the perpetrators of domestic violence or those aged 70 or over when carrying out the assistance checks.

    Tsuyoshi Inaba, representative director of Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund, called for authorities to stop using the checking system without the consent of the person seeking assistance.

    "The biggest factor hindering use of livelihood protection aid is the checking system. It's unnecessary and damaging, and I want it stopped," he said.

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Endo, City News Department)

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