The Yomiuri Shimbun The self-independence and social participation of people struggling to make a living because they cannot find stable employment should be steadily promoted. The support system for them should be strengthened.
A report compiled by a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry study panel reviewing the independence support system for the needy has indicated steps, including greater assistance to help people find jobs and improved consultation services on managing a household budget.
The independence support system for the needy started in fiscal 2015. The system was launched in response to the jump in welfare assistance recipients due to the increase in people with unstable jobs. The system quickly detects people on the verge of requiring welfare assistance due to unemployment, illness, debts or other reasons, and encourages their independence by linking them to the appropriate support.
The central bodies implementing this system are prefectural and municipal governments that have welfare offices. General inquiry counters were set up at those offices for people to seek advice on a wide range of topics, and support measures tailored to the circumstances of each individual are compiled there. Some of these offices offer, at their discretion, training to help people find jobs, advice on managing a household budget and learning support for children.
In the two years after the system was introduced, 450,000 people called in for consultations and 120,000 continually received support. Of them, 60,000 people found jobs or increased their income.
Although the system has been successful to a degree, many problems remain. There are huge discrepancies between regions with regard to services offered at the offices’ discretion. Only 44 percent of local governments offered long-term unemployed people and “hikikomori” social recluses support to prepare them for finding a job, such as by arranging work experience. Just 40 percent provided consultation services for managing a household budget.
Review assistance criteria
It is estimated that as many as 540,000 young people are hikikomori. The number of middle-aged and elderly people who live in isolation is also rising. There are deep concerns that these people will fall into economic hardship, as their parents become increasingly elderly.
Many of the nation’s needy people have run up big debts because they cannot grasp how to manage a household budget or prepare mid- and long-term life plans.
The panel’s report called for all local governments that have welfare offices to offer employment preparation assistance and household budget consultation services — bearing in mind that such services should be compulsory. It is hoped that local governments make efforts to provide these services.
Needy people tend to become isolated, which makes it difficult for information about available support to reach them. It is important that welfare, medical care, housing and other relevant divisions in local governments cooperate closely to find people eligible for support. It also is essential to nurture human resources with the necessary expertise in this area.
The report also incorporated a review of the livelihood protection system. To curb the medical assistance that accounts for half of the entire expenses of this system, the report proposed introducing health management support for people receiving this assistance, and corrective measures to prevent people making excessive doctor visits. These steps should be promoted in concert with strengthened support for people to become independent by finding employment.
The criteria for receiving livelihood assistance will change in the next fiscal year. As a result, 67 percent of households receiving assistance to help cover food, heating and lighting costs will have this monetary support cut by up to 5 percent. This is a result of efforts to balance the spending abilities of ordinary low-income households and those who receive benefits.
Some observers are concerned this method will extremely reduce the level of benefits that can be received under deflation. Methods for setting these criteria will need to be reviewed.