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As the economy worsens, some people will suffer more than others. For the first time ever, the number of Japanese single mothers receiving child-care allowances to supplement their low income has topped 1 million, the health and welfare ministry reported in March. These single-mother households greatly need additional help: Their income is stuck at 40 percent of the national average.

The 1-million-plus total, of course, involves not just mothers, but 1 million-plus children as well. Nearly 90 percent of these mothers became single through divorce, which may indicate some degree of outside child support, but not enough. And since the allowances are paid in accordance with the previous year’s income, the figures do not reflect the real current situation as affected by an economy that started declining last fall.

These million-plus children need assistance as protection from the worst effects of the economic recession. With the right assistance, the damage from this recession can at least partially be contained within this one generation. If the government can afford lump-sum payments to all citizens to stimulate the economy, surely it can afford to increase the meager ¥42,000 monthly allowance for low-income single-mother families.

Money, of course, is not the only solution. A recent Cabinet Office survey found that 33 percent of married women experienced physical and mental abuse from their husbands. Of those, only around 3 percent contacted either the police or a hospital, with only 1 percent turning to help centers or private shelters. Over half did not ask anyone for help. Most women, it is clear, could use psychological, legal and financial help of many kinds to resolve abusive marriages and difficult situations.

One of the most basic functions of government should be supporting those members of society in most need of help. That support is especially important in the toughest times, when social burdens fall most heavily on the economically vulnerable. Ensuring the safety and well-being of mothers and children, regardless of their marriage status, should be a much stronger government priority. Over a million households are waiting.

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