Echoing the April 23 editorial “Government assistance is vital in pandemic,” one unfortunate consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak is that it hits vulnerable populations especially hard. Our experience so far has suggested that the current outbreak unveils and even reinforces the vulnerability of those populations probably more than previous economic shocks due to its rather unique features. When the schools were shut down, perhaps those who struggled the most were single-parent households who had more difficulty in balancing work and children’s education on top of the ongoing issues of higher rates of relative poverty. Also, they are deprived of school meals that provide a precious source of nutrition for children, further fueling the much-debated issues surrounding child poverty in Japan. The service sector related to restaurants and hotels whose employees earn relatively lower average wages than other sectors were among those that saw the largest drop in employment in March. Temporary workers whose average wage remains approximately 65 to 70 percent of regular workers are facing increasing cases of unemployment or reduction of work hours. And importantly, women are more represented in all these groups than men.
There has been public support specifically targeting these groups affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. For instance, several municipalities have decided to provide benefits for single-parent households to ease their financial burden. Also, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has summarized and is constantly updating the information on assistance programs on its website, including various grants, loans and moratoriums for payment which the vulnerable populations can greatly benefit from. As the government continues to take on this long journey to fight against COVID-19, my hope is that the government assistance will be centered around tacking the struggles of vulnerable populations to make their lives easier during this pandemic.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.