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Prime Minister Naoto Kan is poised to defend welfare minister Ritsuo Hosokawa as opposition parties are looking to target him over his unfamiliarity with a ministry measure for relieving housewives who could fail to receive pensions, sources close to the prime minister said.

Kan will defend the health, labor and welfare minister on grounds that the relief measure was fleshed out when his predecessor, Akira Nagatsuma, was in office. The prime minister is eager to prevent Hosokawa’s departure following Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara’s decision Sunday to step down, the sources said.

Full-time housewives’ pension premiums are usually covered by their wage-earning husbands’ premium payments. But when husbands change their status from salaried employment, their wives are required to make premium payments for their own pensions.

There could be more than 1 million full-time housewives who have failed to make such payments and may therefore receive lower than expected or no pensions.

The relief measure features a pension premium waiver for housewives who have failed to pay pension premiums in full.

The welfare ministry launched the waiver in January based on a notice from the department chief in charge, to pave the way for full pensions to be paid to full-time housewives by requiring that they pay premiums for just two years.

But the waiver was subsequently repealed after opposition parties claimed it was unfair to housewives who had paid all of the premiums due.

Last Friday before the Upper House Budget Committee, Hosokawa said he was unaware of the notice, prompting the opposition bloc to claim that he has failed in the administration of his ministry.

Kan told the committee’s session Monday that Hosokawa does not need to resign as he is now studying a new relief measure, stressing that the welfare minister’s “biggest task is to work it out in a manner that reassures people.”

Maehara announced Sunday his decision to resign over illegal donations from a South Korean resident of Japan, dealing a serious blow to the Kan Cabinet, which was formed in January.

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