Households facing pandemic-induced poverty to get more support under ministry plan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Food and other items are provided to people in need due to the prolonged pandemic in Tokyo, in this photo taken in December last year.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is considering making it a local government obligation to help households struggling to make ends meet as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan applies to households that have taken out special government loans, which are provided free of interest to those whose incomes have declined because of the pandemic. With the prices of goods continuing to soar, the government deems it necessary to provide ongoing support, such as by helping them make household account book or look for jobs.

The government aims to revise the current law at next year’s regular Diet session, to support the independence of people facing poverty.

As of the end of September this year, a total of roughly ¥1.43 trillion in special government loans had been paid since the emergency loans program was implemented in March 2020. Repayments start in January 2023 and can last up to 10 years in some cases.

The government can waive repayments for households not subject to residential tax. According to a July-October survey by the Japan National Council of Social Welfare, about 30% of households whose repayments start in January have applied for an exemption. Soaring cost of living has kept many of them from improving their household finances, triggering concerns that many borrowers will be unable to pay back the money.

In light of these circumstances, the health ministry has deemed it essential for municipal officials to provide ongoing advice and support to improve household finances over the medium to long term.

The current law stipulates that municipalities with welfare offices, such as prefectures and ordinance-designated cities, provide assistance in improving household finances, but only about 70% of the 900 targeted municipalities are providing such assistance. The envisioned law revision would make the assistance completely mandatory so that support can be provided anywhere in the country.

Local government or social welfare council officials check the finances of those who have taken out special loans, with their consent, and help them prepare a household account book. If necessary, the officials may advise them to look for jobs that lead to a higher income or move to a house with cheaper rent. They also encourage those who continue to fall behind on debts and taxes out of hardship to sort out their debts.