Monday, November 14, 2011

2.05m Japanese on welfare - a post-war high

Nov 10, 2011

July's figure includes thousands hit by March 11 disaster

 By Kwan Weng Kin

TOKYO: Japan's prolonged recession has led to a record 2.05 million people living on welfare, narrowly surpassing the previous high posted during the post-World War II years.

In July, the number of people on welfare hit 2,050,495, almost 4,000 more than the previous record of 2,046,646 posted 60 years ago in 1951.

This number is expected to grow in the coming months, given Japan's rapidly ageing population.

Last year, almost one-quarter of the Japanese population - 23 per cent - were aged 65 and above. The figure is expected to reach nearly 30 per cent by 2020.

While the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry's report did not give a breakdown of the types of welfare recipients, they included thousands who lost their jobs because of the March 11 earthquake- tsunami disaster and the nuclear crisis that it triggered.

Japan imposes stringent conditions on welfare applicants, who must show that they have exhausted all available personal assets and all avenues for employment, and must be living in poverty.

In practice, applicants are told to first live off their savings and sell any assets or property they have to support themselves. Welfare counsellors also advise applicants to find work.

An elderly applicant who is entitled to a pension or other allowances from the state is told to apply for those benefits first.

Japanese society also continues to uphold family ties. Welfare applicants are routinely told to seek financial support from close family members or relatives, rather than depend on the state.

Despite this, the number of people on welfare has been rising since it bottomed out in 1995 at 880,000 a month. After hitting two million in March this year, the number has grown by about 10,000 a month.

While the elderly comprised over half of all welfare recipients previously, the proportion of younger Japanese on welfare swelled in recent years, particularly after the 2008 global financial crisis.

Thousands of part-time workers have been left jobless since employers cut manpower costs to stay afloat three years ago.

Those in their 30s to 50s find it especially difficult to find a new job because of their age.

The persistently poor job situation in Japan is due to the sluggish economy. Government-funded skills retraining programmes have not helped much.

The government's expenditure on welfare benefits has gone up as the number of recipients continues to rise. The total payout topped 2 trillion yen (S$32.6 billion) in 2001 and reached 3 trillion yen in 2009.

For the fiscal year ending next March 31, the government has set aside 3.4 trillion yen.

But Japan is far from being like many Western countries, where young people are said to be able to live on the dole and not have to work.

A young couple with one infant living in the Tokyo area will receive about 175,000 yen - equivalent to the starting monthly pay of a college graduate. If they live in places where the cost of living is lower, the payout is about 20 per cent less.

Welfare recipients who need medical care will have their bills paid directly to the hospital.

[Much like Singapore.]

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