Two panels of the health and welfare ministry’s Social Security Council have submitted separate reports on their respective studies of livelihood assistance for the poor, known as seikatsu hogo (literally livelihood protection). On the basis of the reports, the health and welfare ministry reportedly plans to reduce the core assistance benefits by 8 percent.
While it is important to try to establish equity between livelihood assistance recipients and working low-income people, and to design a welfare system that will give people incentives to work, the government must remember that livelihood assistance is the last layer in the nation’s social safety net and that summarily lowering the benefits of livelihood assistance could cause it to unravel.
The government also must take utmost care to ensure that changes in the livelihood assistance program do not lead to the perpetuation of poverty among people on the bottom rung of the nation’s economic ladder.
One of the panels compared the basic portion of livelihood assistance for food, heating, lighting and city water expenses against the daily living expenses of working people in the lowest 10 percent of income earners. The average annual income in this group is about ¥1.2 million. The panel found that among households comprising both parents and children or a mother and children, the basic portion of livelihood assistance is higher than the daily living expenses for working households.
But the government must be careful about lowering livelihood assistance benefits for families with children. Because the benefits are linked to legal minimum wage levels, public schooling assistance for poor children, and the standards for exemption from payment of public health and nursing care insurance premiums, a reduction in benefits could also make the lives of working low-income people more difficult.
The government should take special care so that children in poor families do not suffer disadvantages in getting an education — an important step for preventing the perpetuation of poverty.
In an attempt to prevent ineligible people from receiving livelihood assistance, the government is thinking of having relatives of people who apply for such assistance explain why they cannot support the applicants. Given the fact that cases in which benefits are paid to people ineligible to receive them amount to only 0.3 to 0.4 percent of all cases, this seems like unreasonable government overreach that would violate welfare applicants’ right to privacy. This is particularly serious given that fact that some are victims of domestic violence and abuse, and do not want their relatives to know their whereabouts. In addition, people have no legal obligation to support their adult relatives.
The other panel stressed the importance of setting up a system in which local government workers in charge of social welfare and nonprofit organizations cooperate to help impoverished people applying for livelihood assistance to once again stand on their own economically. It is hoped that such a system will be effective in providing such people with counseling, vocational training and help in finding employment