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Unmarried single parents find an unlikely ally in scrap over tax deduction

by Philip Brasor

Contributing Writer

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party submitted an amendment to the Diet in January to expand the “widow’s deduction” to cover single parents who have never been married. This system allows single parents who have lost spouses to death or divorce to deduct a certain amount of money from their taxable income in order to reduce their tax burden. At present, single parents who have never been married do not qualify for the deduction.

The expansion will likely go into effect this spring, despite the objections of certain LDP members who think the revision undermines the so-called traditional family. The party member who has most championed the bill is former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, a development the media has found surprising since Inada is commonly viewed as one of the LDP’s “hawks,” meaning a stubborn politician who frequently sticks to the conservative line, especially when it comes to family matters.

Consequently, Inada has been talking to the press a lot and focusing more awareness on a subject that wouldn’t have drawn attention otherwise and, in almost every story, the writer expresses amazement that Inada would be advocating for never-married single parents. In her interview with Inada for the business magazine Diamond Online in December, Yoshiko Miwa finds it “astonishing” that the Lower House lawmaker is the main force pushing the LDP toward expansion. Inada even points out that there are more never-been-married single parents in Japan than there are widowed single parents.

Journalist Shoko Egawa expressed even more surprise in a Dec. 25 article for Mainichi Shimbun, admitting that when she read about Inada’s position she “regretted” her former opinion of categorizing people as being a certain type of lawmaker. Egawa believed others who noted that Inada was one of the most conservative public figures in Japan and, since she seemed so bound to the concept of the traditional family, Egawa assumed she didn’t have much sympathy for unmarried mothers. Now, however, she believes Inada’s concern is sincere and that, rather than categorize viewpoints based on political stance, Egawa now looks at how a person addresses reality.

In contrast, Nikkan Gendai Digital’s Jan. 27 interview with Inada takes a more skeptical attitude toward her perceived shift to the center, pointing out that the LDP still wants to incorporate a definition of the traditional Japanese family into its revised Constitution.

Inada explains to Gendai that she was surprised when she read that people objected to the never-been-married expansion because they were afraid it might “destroy” the traditional family system. To her, a single-parent family should still be treated as a family, whether the parent is widowed, divorced or never married. She formed this opinion after meeting Chieko Akaishi, head of the Single Mothers Forum, which has been lobbying for the expansion and similar changes for years. So she asked the LDP tax committee to amend the deduction to include never-married parents.

When Gendai asks if the subsequent debate over the bill was contentious, Inada says only in the matter of determining an income ceiling for never-married single parents in order to qualify for the tax deduction.

While the expansion has received substantial party support, Inada admits there is still pushback from elements who say that extending the deduction to never-married single parents would encourage people to live together without getting married, thus undermining social unity. She finds this sentiment unbelievable.

“No one wants to have a child and raise that child without getting married,” she says, pointing out that a child born out-of-wedlock has fewer legal rights than one who is born to a married couple. Inada disagrees with the conclusion that people will turn to common law arrangements if the widow deduction is expanded to include never-married parents. She also points to the hypocrisy of the present situation by saying that divorced single parents are eligible for the deduction even if they are in a common law relationship. She still “defends” traditional families but doesn’t see why they can’t be headed by marginalized groups such as unmarried parents or LGBTQ couples.

Given Inada’s previous image, this position certainly sounds progressive, but it’s important to keep in mind the circumstances that result in children being born out of wedlock. Inada is likely thinking of an unexpected pregnancy that does not lead to marriage, a situation she sees as an anomaly (in that, “no one wants to raise a child without getting married”). What hardcore traditional family advocates fear is that women will want to raise children without partners, and Inada discounts this fear because she doesn’t think anyone would ever want that.

The problem with this argument is that it focuses on marital status rather than children’s welfare, a dynamic that’s more pronounced in the matter of the child-rearing allowance for single parents. Applicants for this government assistance have to jump through hoops in order to prove to local governments that they are not in common law relationships or in any way accepting support from another person. Family welfare advocates have been trying for years to make approval conditional on what a child needs rather than what the parent is doing. This same mindset is behind objections to the widow’s deduction expansion. Inada is thinking of children’s welfare, but she’s arguing on her opponents’ terms.

Inada is currently attracting derision over her views on the paucity of female lawmakers, but if the media really wants to gauge her political leanings, they should ask her position on separate names for married couples, a matter that is also in the news right now thanks to an outburst in the Diet during an opposition party member’s speech on changing the Civil Code to allow married couples the choice of retaining their respective surnames. The heckler told the opposition member that if couples didn’t want to live under the same name, a condition mandated by the Civil Code, they shouldn’t get married, a comment that has led to a more open discussion. Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, a member of the LDP, which wants to maintain single surnames, has come out for separate names by saying something obvious that had nonetheless remained unremarked, at least in politics: Separate names should be a legal option for any married couple.

So far, Inada hasn’t added much to the current discussion about separate names, although she said she supports those arguing for the revision in 2019. The year before, however, she appeared on former Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Ameba TV talk show and said she was opposed to allowing separate names since it would lead to “confusion.” Hashimoto, a famous conservative himself, supports allowing separate names for personal reasons. Inada replied with a comment that would seem to reinforce Egawa’s opinion that the best way to judge a person’s position is their approach to reality. Inada said that using the same name or different names, or changing the constitution accordingly, will not automatically result in happy families.

This comment amused Hashimoto, who remarked, “So you really aren’t a typical LDP conservative.”

“I’m a conservative,” Inada said, “just not that hard-core.”

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