Chapter 4 Public Assistance

I. General Characteristics

1. Explanation of terms

The areas of public assistance in Japan is divided into : (1) Income assistance for the poor and (2) Social services and assistance for socially disadvantaged people. The former is called Public Assistance, while the latter includes Welfare for the Elderly, Welfare for the Children, Welfare for the Disabled, Welfare for Single-Mother Households, Welfare of Mentally Disabled People depending on the specified target group. Public Assistance includes both in-kind and in-cash assistance to the poor household, while the latter includes mostly services such as at-home and institutional assistance, but sometimes in-cash assistance. Thus, the term welfare is used widely to indicate various social assistance programs and institutions which fall under the above mentioned areas.

2.Means test and universality

Income assistance of any type is given by a fairly strict means test, which might be a reason for low percentage of population receiving public assistance. However, the Public Assistance Law stipulates the principle that every citizen has a right to claim public assistance without discrimination, regardless of reasons for falling into hardship. On the other hand, most of the services provided at institutions for the disabled, elderly, and children are provided to all, even though there is a difference in fee depending on the income of the recipient.

II. Assistance Schemes

Here, main measures for the following four categories of social assistance will be described.

Income assistance, rather than services, will be the main focus of the discussion.

  1. Public Assistance
  2. Welfare for Children (including Single-Mother Households)
  3. Welfare for the Elderly
  4. Welfare for the Disabled
1.Public Assistance@

The root of Japan's public assistance goes back to Indigent Person's Relief Regulation (1874) and Poor Relief Law (1932). However, a modern version of the public assistance started in the midst of the confusion after World War II with Public Assistance Law (1946), followed closely by its total revision in 1950. The revised Public Assistance Law (New) constitutes a backbone of the public assistance. The Law stipulates four fundamental principles: (1) public assistance to the people in need is a responsibility of the state, (2) all citizens have a right to claim public assistance without discrimination of sex, social background and reasons for falling into hardship, and only the economic condition is the criteria of receiving assistance, (3) the state guarantees to all citizens a minimum level of healthy and cultural life, and (4) public assistance is a supplement to all resources available to and the best efforts exerted by the applicant.

The public assistance is given upon receipt of application by a household in need and after careful examination of the application. The assistance is calculated by subtracting the household's final income from the minimum cost of living. In case the minimum cost of living exceeds the final income, the difference is given as the assistance. The minimum cost of living is calculated from seven categories of expenses : livelihood, housing, educational, medical, maternity, occupational, and funeral expense. The calculation of the minimum cost of living takes into consideration the differences in living costs among different regions of the country, and household structure. Not all assistance is provided as cash transfers, but some expenses such as medical costs, are provided as in-kind transfer.

(a)@Means test

The principle (4) in the above states that the public assistance serves as a supplement to the person's best efforts and available resources. In other words, the person is required to use all available resources, including assets, ability to work, as well as assistance from those who are required to support the person by law. Assets such as land, houses and farms must be sold, except in the case where the person is actually living or utilizing it and the value of the assets is higher when it is utilized than when it is sold. Household goods such as TV are allowed to be kept if the diffusion rate of the goods is more than 70% in the region.

As for the utilization of ability, the person will not be able to receive assistance if he/she is judged as capable to work. If the person has a will and ability to work, but is unable to find work, it is unlikely that he/she would be given assistance.

The civil law states that certain relatives and family members are required to support a person in need. Thus, the public assistance is given only after it is judged that this support is not available. In practice, spouses and parents of a minor (less than 20 years old) have strong responsibility to support the person.


In 1997, 631 thousand households or 906 thousand persons (0.72% of the population) received some types of public assistance. Among them, the share of elderly household is the largest, accounting for 44% of all recipient households, and has been increasing for some years. The share of household with the disabled or sick is also large, at 41%. The rest are single-mother households and others. The large share of households with the elderly, disabled or sick may be the reason that the most of recipient households (87.4% in 1997) do not have any working member.

Table 4.1 Persons Receiving Public Assistance by Types of Aid
(monthly average, 1997)

Table 4.2 Percentage of Household Receiving Aid by Types of Household


fig4.1 Duration of Receiving Public assistance by Household (1997)

Source: Kose Tokei Kyokai, Kose no Shihyo, 1999

fig4.2 Working/Non-working Households Receiving Public Assistance (1997)

Source: Kose Tokei Kyokai, 1999

2.Welfare for Children (including Single-Mother Households)@

(a) Child Allowance and Special Child Allowance
In order to help families raise children, the Child Allowance is granted to parents (or guardians) who are raising children less than 3 years old, and whose income is less than a specified amount (see Table 4.3 for income threshold). The amount of the Child Allowance is \5,000 per month for the first twos, and \10,000/month/child for other children under 3 years old . The financial burden of the Child Allowance is born by employer, central, prefectural and municipal governments at 70%, 20%, 5%, 5% for a recipient who is employed, and by the central, prefectural and municipal governments at 66%, 16% and 16% for a recipient who is not an employee.
In addition, for a parent who is either employee or a public servant, a higher income threshold was set for receiving Special Child Allowance. The amount of Special Child Allowance is same as the Child Allowance, but the entire financial burden is born by his/her employer.

Table 4.3 Income Threshold for Child Allowance

* Annual Income of previous year (unit:\10,000)

Table 4.4 Number of Child Allowance Recipients and Expenditure, 1997

Source: Kose Tokei Kyokai, 1998, , MHW, 1999

(b) Child Rearing Allowance (for single-mother households)

As part of measures for single-mother households, Child Rearing Allowance is given to a mother or other persons having custody of, and rearing a child less than 18 years old , who does not share a common household income with father and whose earnings for the previous year is less than the threshold. For mothers and others with less than \2,048,000 of annual earning, monthly allowance of \42,370 in case of one child, \47,370 in case of two children, and for third child and up additional \3,000 for each child is granted. For similar persons whose earnings of the previous year was more than \2,048,000 but less than \3,000,000, monthly allowance is reduced by \14,020.

(c) Child Care Facilities (Day-care centers, etc.)

Municipal governments are required by the Child Welfare Law to provide day-care centers for children whose parents are not capable of taking care of them for reasons such as work, illness, and care of other members of the family. Day-care centers provide 8 hours of care, but demand to extend the hours has been increasing. The staffing and other quality measures are tightly regulated by the state. Fee for day-care centers depends on municipality.

3.Welfare for the Elderly@

To meet the need of aging society, various welfare measures are provided. The basic principles governing the welfare for the elderly are : promotion of independence, universality, comprehensive service, community-based delivery.
The details of services for the elderly will be outlined in Chapter 5, and here only the list of services is shown (Table 4.5). For at-home elderly, services such as home-helps, short-stay, and day-care are provided. For elderly who cannot be taken care of at home, there are institutions such as special nursing homes, care houses, and health service facilities.

Table 4.5 Health and Social Services for the Elderly

4. Welfare for the Disabled

The measures for people with disabilities are divided into (1) those for people with physical disabilities, (2) for people with mental disorders, (3) for children with mental and physical disabilities and adults with intellectual disability. Measures are mainly institutional services and in-home services. Tables 4.6 and 4.7 list services provided by the government.

Table 4.6 Measures for People with Physical Disabilities Table 4.7 Measures for People with Mental Disorders

Source: Kosei Tokei Kyokai, 1999

As for the income assistance, disability pensions under the National Basic Pension, the Employees' Pension Insurance schemes, and Special Allowance for Disabled Persons are granted for eligible persons with disabilities who are over 20 years of age. For households who are raising children with disabilities under age of 20, Special Child Rearing Allowance and Welfare Allowance for Disabled Children are applicable. If the sum of eligible allowances and any other income is under the minimum cost of living, public assistance, as discussed in section II.1., is granted to secure the minimum standard of living. Amount of each allowance is summarized in Table 4.8.

Table 4.8 Income Assistance for the Disabled, 1998

Source: Kosei Tokei Kyokai, 1998

III. Current Issues

1.Basic Structural Reform of Social Welfare@

The 1945-55 conception of public relief for the poor still remains in the basic framework of social welfare in Japan. However, there is a growing awareness of the necessity to respond to the diverse welfare needs of people and to provide them with high quality services. With such an understanding, the government is carrying forward the Basic Structural Reform of Social Welfare.
The reform aims to establish a system which ensures the choice of individuals. Previously, specifically in case of services requiring institutionalization, the welfare offices assessed the need of the person in question and ordered appropriate measures. Under such a system, the user could not freely choose the service or the institution. Under a new system, an individual selects his/her own services and uses them based on a contract with suppliers . (Fig. 4.5)
The reform is still at the stage of building a consensus about its general direction, and concrete measures must be determined in later legislation.

2.Need to create a society favorable to child rearing

Japan has faced a rapid aging of the population, which is caused by both an increase in life span and a decrease in fertility. In order to avoid a decrease in the number of children, it is necessary to create an environment favorable to child rearing. However, many Japanese working parents rely much on mothers staying at home or grandparents taking care of children. As the number of working mothers rises, there has been a severe shortage of day-care centers, especially for 0 to 2 year olds, within metropolitan cities. In 1999, the Government has allocated a special supplemental budget to reduce the number of waiting children for day-care centers. Yet, more efforts in this field are needed to increase the number and diversify the kind of day-care centers and other measures to help working parents. Measures to help not only working parents but also non-working mothers, who are feeling stress of bringing up children in the absence of extended family and community ties, will! work to create a child-rearing easy society.

Fig. 4.5 Diagram Representation of the Welfare Reform

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