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2014年9月 2日 (火)

子供の貧困対策 世代間の連鎖を断ち切りたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
End generational cycle of poverty to give children equal opportunity
子供の貧困対策 世代間の連鎖を断ち切りたい

A society must be realized in which all children, regardless of their parents’ income levels, will be given equal opportunities to carve out their own futures.

The government on Friday announced a Cabinet decision on a policy outline containing details of countermeasures to combat the problem of child poverty. Based on the law for measures to counter child poverty that came into force in January, the outline specifies priority tasks to be undertaken by the government within the next five years.

Japan’s child poverty rate stood at an all-time high of 16.3 percent in 2012. The figure represents the percentage of children living in households that earn less than half the national median income, translating into roughly one in six children. The nation’s child poverty rate is at a significantly high level among industrialized economies.

Children from low-income households tend to find themselves in need even after they become adults. It is reasonable that the policy outline has adopted a basic principle with the aim of breaking the “generational cycle of poverty.”

Particular emphasis in the outline is placed on educational assistance measures for children living in poverty. Among the steps cited are expansion of interest-free scholarship loan programs and tutoring for needy children by volunteers. Envisioning schools as “platforms” for supporting children, the policy outline calls for an enormous increase in the number of school social workers who liaise with social welfare organizations.

To grasp the actual conditions of children living in poverty, the outline has chosen 25 indicators to evaluate the effects of child-support government measures, such as the percentages of children from households on welfare — those under the government’s public assistance system — who go on to higher education and secure employment.

Abandoning education

Many of the measures referred to in the outline have already been in place and lack innovation, but the fact that the government has worked out a comprehensive set of measures for tackling the problem of child poverty, the first of its kind, is fairly significant. The central government and local governments must work together closely for steady implementation of the support package.

Regarding the problem of child poverty, there are many conspicuous cases in which children are forced to abandon the prospect of higher education or find themselves unable to participate in such events as school trips and extracurricular activities. In some serious cases, children are unable to eat three proper meals a day or receive necessary medical treatment.

Single-parent households, whose poverty rate has shot up to 54.6 percent, are in especially dire circumstances. A large majority of them are single-mother families.

Eighty percent of single mothers work, but many of them have been unable to escape poverty. If they have children to take care of, they have fewer opportunities of attaining the status of regular employees, since many single mothers work in low-paying part-time and other nonregular jobs. The annual employment income of single-mother households is no more than ¥1.81 million on average.

Measures to help boost the income of such parents are vital. Employment support steps incorporated into the policy outline for single mothers and other low-income households must be improved further. In addition, a review must be made of the nation’s entire employment system with a view to remedying, as a matter of course, the working conditions of nonregular employees, and expanding their opportunities to become regular employees.

The policy outline, however, fell short of including any numerical targets to lower the child poverty rate. This is a task the government should address in the future to heighten the effectiveness of measures to fight child poverty.

Situations in which children are deprived of opportunities to exercise their skills and abilities due to poverty is undoubtedly detrimental to the future of the country. The challenge of eliminating poverty must be addressed by society as a whole.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 1, 2014)Speech


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