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Japanese gov't proposes easing kin contact requirements for welfare applicants

The Tokyo building that houses the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is seen in this file photo. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Japan's welfare ministry will review rules demanding officials contact welfare applicants' family members to check if they can provide support instead of the government, the ministry has announced.

    Under current rules, the check is not required if the applicant has not contacted a given family member for 20 or more years. That will be shortened to around 10 years under the proposed change. The ministry is expected to send official advisories on its plans to local governments as early as Feb. 26. Welfare is administered through local authorities in Japan.

    At a Jan. 27 House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said of people fallen on hard times due to the coronavirus pandemic, "In the end, there's welfare."

    However, it soon became apparent that some people in need hesitate to apply for welfare over fears that the authorities will contact estranged relatives -- concerns that prompted the welfare ministry to review the application process.

    Until now the ministry has not done checks on people who cannot expect support from their relatives, but the exemptions are very limited, with conditions such as the applicants' kin being aged 70 or over, or the applicants not having had contact with their kin for 20 years.

    The rules review will examine a slate of new and revised exceptions, including reducing the 20-year no-contact rule to around 10 years, and circumstances surrounding sour familial relations, such as debts or inheritance conflicts. Furthermore, in addition to current guidelines advising against contacting family who have committed domestic violence, the ministry proposes to request that local authorities avoid contacting family who have inflicted domestic abuse.

    (Japanese original by Takuya Murata, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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