Stop squeezing the poor

After being discussed and passed by the Upper House, a bill to revise the Livelihood Protection Law has reached the floor of the Lower House. The bill will make it difficult for the needy to receive livelihood assistance, known as seikatsu hogo. Since the revised law would have a great impact on many people’s lives, the Lower House should conduct careful discussions on the bill and either should greatly revise it or kill it.

Poverty is becoming a big social problem in Japan. Statistics released Nov. 13 by the health and welfare ministry show that a record 1,590,249 households with 2,159,877 people were receiving assistance in August, increases of 1,728 households and 931 people from July. In August, the Abe administration already started cutting back on core welfare benefits for people. It plans to reduce benefits by an average 6.5 percent over the coming three years, with the maximum cut reaching 10 percent.

Under the revision bill, welfare applicants would be required to submit a document to their municipal government that states their assets and income. The bill is written in a way that can be interpreted as allowing applicants who are having difficulties in gathering the necessary information to delay submission of the document until the time a decision is made on whether they qualify for livelihood assistance. But this is not clearly stated. Critics of the bill say that if the law revision goes into effect, it will become more likely that municipal governments will reject welfare applications that do not include documentation of assets and income.

In cases in which close relatives of those who apply for welfare refuse to financially support them, the revision bill allows welfare offices to ask the relatives, such as parents and children, to explain why they cannot support them. The bill would also allow welfare offices to request that the close relatives’ employers and banks disclose information on their assets or income.

The revision also mean that when people apply for welfare, their relatives will soon become aware of their application, and strong pressure will be exerted on close relatives of welfare applicants to support them. Many poor people may simply give up applying for welfare because they do not want their relatives to know or because they don’t want to impose a financial burden on them.

The revision will also make it difficult to apply for welfare for those who have fled their homes to escape domestic violence, those who are homeless and those who suffer from mental illnesses.

Livelihood assistance is the final layer in the nation’s social safety net. Judging by past experience, if the bill passes it will lead to more deaths from hunger and suicide. The Abe administration should stop its shameful policy of squeezing the poor.