在日本 這些弱勢者 是新加坡的數十倍
POINT OF VIEW/ Takaharu Fujiyabu: Deaths show dark side of 'beautiful country'
In July, the media reported the death of a 52-year-old man in Kokura-Kita Ward, Kita-Kyushu, within months of his welfare benefits being cut off. The man, who used to be a taxi driver, lost his job due to illness and became destitute. He started receiving welfare benefits from the Kokura-Kita welfare office on Dec. 7, 2006.
Later, however, he was told by a city official that unless he started working again, he would receive a written warning and his benefits would be suspended. After five months, on April 2, the man submitted a notice to decline welfare payments.
The benefits stopped and the man died about two months later without having landed a job.
The man is said to have been so poor that he sometimes ate grass growing by the roadside to stave off hunger. Initially, a city official said "the case does not present a problem because the man voluntarily passed up the payments." The official presented it as "a model case of independence."
But on July 30, in an unusual move, a third-party commission set up by the city to re-examine the city's welfare policy publicized the man's diary. "Do they mean people who are destitute should just go ahead and die?" "All they did was to force me to write (a notification) and affix my seal. Is that how you guide people to become independent?" "I want to eat onigiri (rice balls). I haven't eaten rice for 25 days." These are some of the entries that appeared in his diary.
The panel pointed out that the suspension of welfare benefits presented a serious problem. The city also admitted, albeit belatedly, that the way it dealt with the case was "outrageous" and inappropriate.
Actually, in Kita-Kyushu, starvation and suicides related to welfare are not uncommon.
In May 2006, a physically disabled 56-year-old man who had lost his job starved to death after his application for welfare to Moji welfare office was turned down.
In January 2005, a 67-year-old man who was certified by the city as being in need of nursing care also died while waiting for his application for livelihood protection to the Yahata-Higashi welfare office to be processed. A woman in her 50s hanged herself after her application for welfare was turned down.
Across Japan, the number of households on welfare has risen sharply in recent years. The average growth rate of budgets for livelihood protection for the major 11 cities from 1998 to 2003 was 52.65 percent.
However, in Kita-Kyushu, it dropped by 0.12 percent in the same period. In order to cut down on fiscal spending, the city required officials to meet "numerical targets," such as limiting the number of application forms to be issued to five a month and terminating benefit payments for five recipients each year.
In welfare circles, the city's livelihood assistance administration is called "the dark Kita-Kyushu system." The government ordered Kita-Kyushu, which came into being as a result of a merger of five municipalities in 1963, to wield the ax to welfare benefits. In response, the city came up with its model to ruthlessly slash livelihood assistance.
In recent years, there have been reports one after another in local governments across Japan about suicides and deaths from starvation of people who were denied welfare. Behind these deaths, I believe, is the harsh "manual for livelihood protection" which is supposed to encourage needy people to seek work instead of relying on welfare. The manual was issued by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to local governments.
But the policy is something that Kita-Kyushu has been practicing for more than 30 years. I fear that if nothing is done to rectify the situation, the "dark Kita-Kyushu system" could spread to other local governments as "a national model."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who advocates "breaking away from the postwar regime," stresses in his book "Utsukushii Kuni e" (Toward a Beautiful Country: My Vision for Japan) the concept of "self-responsible welfare." But in reality, people are dying of hunger or left with no choice but to take their own lives.
Are they "responsible" for what happened to them? The "dark Kita-Kyushu system" that gives rise to starvation and suicide should not be tolerated in "a beautiful country."
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The author is a part-time lecturer at the University of Kitakyushu.(IHT/Asahi: September 1,2007)
Published: September 2 2007 20:04 | Last updated: September 2 2007 20:04
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