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Editorial: Individuals, not households better option for fair handouts

  • May 9, 2020
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:47 p.m.
  • English Press

A government program to provide 100,000 yen ($930) in cash to every resident in Japan, a centerpiece of its emergency relief package to mitigate the economic impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak, is drawing considerable flak.


Criticism and questions about the program are focused on the family-based approach to distributing the lump sum payments. Under the government’s plan, the head of each household will receive the entire amount of cash provided to all the family members who apply.


Implementing the policy in this fashion could prevent the money from reaching the wives of violent husbands and children of abusive parents who currently live separately.


In response to the criticism, the government has taken steps to ensure that victims of domestic violence and abuse will receive the handouts. Women who fled their abusive husbands, for instance, can receive the cash both for themselves and the children they live with by applying directly at the local government offices of areas where they reside.


For children, elderly people and those with disabilities who live in welfare facilities, local governments and facility operators will be responsible for distributing the handouts.


But if victims of domestic violence want to apply for the program at their local government offices, they need documents attesting to their situations issued by the public organizations or citizen groups they have consulted with. They may feel uncomfortable about explaining their situation to local government officials in charge. The officials need to deal with individual cases flexibly according to the special circumstances of the applicants.


But these steps do not solve all the problems.


There are no special measures for victims of domestic violence who still live with their abusers. Relationships among family members are diverse and can be delicate or complicated, even if no violence or abuse is involved.


There are also wide cultural and regional differences in family relationships.


There may probably be many people who find it difficult to ask the household heads to hand them their share of the money.


Given that the program is designed to provide financial relief to all residents in Japan, these problems should not be overlooked.


To be sure, the family-based distribution method has its advantages, such as higher efficiency in paper work and other procedures involved, which enable quicker implementation.


But the priority should be to ensure that every individual affected by the government’s social distancing guidelines and who lives anxiety gets the emergency relief they are entitled to.


The government should allow people to receive the payments individually instead of through the heads of the households if that is their wish.


A similar cash handout program was introduced after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. The government used a distribution method based on the family unit that was similarly criticized.


But it clearly failed to fine-tune the program, meaning the entire nation suffers the same problem, but in a magnified, more high-profile way.


At the core of this blunder is the government’s traditional tendency to consider policy issues from the family-based perspective, instead of from the viewpoint of individuals.


The traditional “ie seido” (family system), which was designed to allow the heads of families to command and rule the entire households, was abolished after the end of World War II, and the postwar Constitution upholds the principles of respect for individuals and gender equality.


But the successive governments led by the Liberal Democratic Party, especially the current one led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have taken actions that run against these principles, such as removing the term “individuals” from the party’s draft amendments to the Constitution and adamantly rejecting proposals to allow married couples to use different family surnames.


There are many systems designed and operated with the family as the basic unit.


We should ask ourselves the question whether these systems are consistent with the constitutional principles of respecting each citizen as an independent individual and protecting their rights accordingly.


The controversy over the 100,000 yen cash handout program offers a good opportunity for us all to take a fresh hard look at the way our society functions.

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