Take Steps to Protect Opportunities for Learning and Experience

It is hoped a society will be realized in which all children, regardless of their parents’ economic situation, have hope for the future. Administrative bodies should provide ongoing support for parents and children in need.

According to a basic survey on people’s lives by the government, the percentage of children under the age of 18 living in families with parents in poverty was 11.5% in 2021, an improvement from 14% in 2018. However, the fact that one in every 8.7 children is in poverty cannot be overlooked.

The survey is conducted once every three years to determine the relative poverty rate, which measures the proportion of people with an annual disposable income of less than half of the national median income. In 2021, people with an annual disposable income of less than ¥1.27 million were in this category in Japan.

Children from impoverished households often miss opportunities for learning and experiencing the world because they cannot afford to purchase educational materials or pay fees for club activities. During summer holidays and on other occasions, when school lunches are not provided, there are some cases in which children are not able to receive sufficiently nutritious meals.

In particular, the relative poverty rate for children in single-parent households has risen to 44.5%. The foundation of their lives may have been shaken due to a decrease in income as a result of their parents’ divorce.

The government has repeatedly provided special benefits to single-parent households in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, but such temporary support cannot be a fundamental solution.

First and foremost, it is essential to stabilize the parents’ livelihood. The government must encourage a shift from non-regular employment to regular employment and continuous wage hikes.

Soaring prices for food and utilities and other items have dealt another blow to needy households.

According to a survey by Kidsdoor, a government-authorized nonprofit organization, 80% of needy households said that soaring prices have made their household budgets very difficult.

The hope is that the central and local governments will provide appropriate support to needy parents and children, including encouraging them to receive public assistance, so that they do not get stuck. It is advisable to consider providing public housing for families raising children and improving and expanding a system to provide school expense subsidies, which can be used to purchase school supplies and the like.

The number of kodomo shokudo cafeterias that provide free or inexpensive meals to local children has increased to about 7,300 locations nationwide. It is hoped that needy households will overcome the crisis by relying on the goodwill of those around them.

The “cycle of poverty,” in which poverty is passed on from parents to children, is a serious problem. It is necessary to strengthen support for children’s learning so that they can lead independent lives in the future.

In some communities, NPOs have set up places where children can be looked after on a daily basis while they study. It would be an idea for administrative bodies to support such activities.

In general, more than 80% of children go on to universities and colleges and other higher education, but the percentage is only a little over 60% for households of a single mother and her children. Hopefully the government will consider expanding scholarship programs for low-income families.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 27, 2023)