Help Single-parent Families Avoid Poverty during Holiday Season

The spread of the novel coronavirus is having a serious impact on the finances of single-parent households. It is important to implement appropriate support measures to prevent them from falling into poverty.

As one of its pandemic measures, the government has decided to once again provide extraordinary special benefits to single-parent households with low incomes. The government should work closely with local governments to ensure that the benefits reach those in need by the end of this year.

This is the second time the benefit will be provided, following this summer, and about ¥74 billion has been set aside from reserve funds. The benefit is ¥50,000 for one child, and ¥30,000 per additional child. There are conditions to be eligible for the benefit: For example, a household with one child must have an annual income of less than ¥3.65 million.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the average income of all households with children is about ¥7.5 million, while that of single-mother households is only about ¥3.1 million. Many single mothers are non-regular workers in unstable positions, and their economic base is weak.

Due to such reasons as shortened working hours due to the coronavirus pandemic, their incomes have decreased, making it even more difficult for them to make a living. It is important to support household finances during the year-end and New Year holidays when spending becomes rather high.

In a survey commissioned by the ministry, when asked about their living conditions toward the end of the year, 60% of single-parent households answered “difficult,” more than 10 percentage points higher than other households. The percentage of those who responded that they had experienced an inability to purchase the food they needed in the past month was 35%.

Due to the rapid expansion of infections, the employment situation is expected to remain difficult. Multi-layered support will certainly be necessary.

The government is expanding the scope of a lending system for living expenses to a wide range of needy families, not just single-parent households.

In the case of the emergency small loan program, which is intended for households whose income has decreased due to the suspension of work and other factors, the maximum loan has been increased from ¥100,000 to ¥200,000. The comprehensive support loan program, which provides loans of up to ¥200,000 per month for up to six months, has been expanded to cover households whose income has decreased due to the pandemic.

Both programs were set up as special exceptions until the end of the year, but the government is planning to extend the period until next March. The government, together with the local social welfare councils that actually handle the loans for applicants, should make efforts to publicize the programs.

In order to strengthen the foundation of people’s livelihoods, efforts should also be focused on employment support.

The municipal government of Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, has set up a comprehensive consultation service to support employment. Consultants with specialized knowledge make individual support plans and accompany single parents to job interviews at companies that understand the situation of single-parent households. They provide consultations for daily life planning and child-rearing, and connect needy households to related organizations.

There are many cases of single-mother families where child support is not paid by the ex-husband. The government must hasten to take measures to eliminate the non-payment of child support so as not to cause child poverty.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 21, 2020.