On March 6, the Osaka edition of the Asahi Shinbun published an article which featured a single mother of two from Japan who was in receipt of a 290,000 yen (about $3,000) monthly social security allowance. Despite this hefty amount of cash arriving in her bank account each month, though, she was alarmed to hear that her benefits may be cut in the near future.

In an interview with the paper, the woman said:

“I realise that asking for an increase in allowance is quite out of the question, but even with living as it currently stands, there are a lot of financial pressures that we’re subject to as a family. The last thing I want to do is create an inferiority complex in my children about their upbringing. The kids have got a hearty appetite and naturally want to eat. If the allowance sees any further cuts, I’ll have no alternative but to cut down on my own food expenditures.”

Well, taking this all on face value one might be inclined to be sympathetic towards the woman’s plight. Barely being able to cover the costs of living, and with a further cut on the horizon forsaking herself for her children, deserves nothing less than admiration. However, the mother seems to have omitted a few important details.

The article also listed a breakdown of the woman’s monthly outgoings. Just taking a glimpse at the finer details, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether this woman has got her priorities in the correct order.

Below is the actual breakdown of the woman’s monthly benefits (conversions in US dollars):

Housing assistance: 54,000 yen ($560)
Livelihood assistance: 219,580 yen ($2,300)
Education assistance: 19,000 yen ($200)

Total: 292,580 yen ($3,060)

And here’s what she actually uses this allowance for:

Rent: 54,000 yen ($560)
Food expenses: 4,300 yen ($45)
Electricity: 5,200 yen ($54)
Gas expenses: 8,300 yen ($90)
Water supply costs: 0
Mobile phone costs: 26,000 yen ($270)
Landline phone costs: 2,000 yen ($20)
Afternoon snacks: 7,000 yen ($70)
Dining out: 2,000 yen ($20)
Daily necessities: 37,000 yen ($385)
Oil stove: 4,000 yen ($40)
Travel expenses: 1,000 yen ($10)
Medical costs (Over the counter medicine): 2,700 yen ($30)
Clothing expenses: 20,000 yen ($210)
Socializing expenses: 11,000 yen ($115)
Entertainment/tuition course expenses (mostly children’s tutorial fees): 40,000 yen ($415)
School related expenses: 1,3000 yen ($135)
Other: 15,380 yen ($160)

Upon seeing this breakdown, some of the reactions from net users included:

“Is the fixed line phone really that necessary?”

“The mobile phone bill is way too expensive!”

“Even a working household doesn’t spend 40,000 yen on education fees”

“That type of allowance is ridiculous!”

Admittedly, observing the above breakdown, it becomes evident that there are some unnecessary expenditures going on here, and one might argue that, before cutting down on food expenses, how about practicing a little more self-control on the phone bill and entertainment expenses? Arguably achieving this would create a large amount of financial freedom.

If these figures are representative of the actual allowance this woman receives each month, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that she lives a more luxurious life than many people in full time-employment. However, one can’t help but question the assessment measures put in place by the government when paying out such hefty sums.

To put all this in perspective, it is perhaps necessary to refer to the fundamental principles of the Japanese livelihood protection system (social welfare system) and the reason for its existence:

“The livelihood protection system is devised by the country to assist citizens undergoing financial distress by guaranteeing a minimum standard of living, whilst helping to establish self-independence.” (Livelihood Protection Law Clause 1, Chapter 1)

It is evident that this is a system designed for the poverty-stricken, or those at a social disadvantage, looking for a way to establish a foothold in working society. As it currently stands, there are particular elements of the Japanese social welfare system that are perhaps too lenient, creating a situation where one finds themselves questioning the need to work. Even if finding employment isn’t a problem, the salary is sometimes less than the livelihood protection allowance, which subsequently dampens the spirits and motivation to find work for many. Whether the allowance criteria is too relaxed or the employment initiative not effective enough, there looks to be quite some room for improvement within the current system as it stands.

[ Read in Japanese ]