You’d think a local government would praise and encourage a girl like this. Instead, Kawasaki City branded her and her family welfare cheats. The family resisted. The case wound up in court. Surprise – Kawasaki City lost.
Shukan Josei (April 21) tells the story. In 2010, the girl (we’ll call her Maki) was a 15-year-old 2nd-year senior high school student in Kawasaki. Her father had been an electrician but heart trouble forced him out of work in 2005. Her mother, an office worker, became the sole family breadwinner. It proved too much for her. Unable to cope, she succumbed to depression and in 2008, she too quit work. In April 2010, the family, its savings exhausted, went on welfare.
Six months later, Maki’s class drew up plans for a school trip. She wanted to go. But school trips are expensive. This one would cost 98,000 yen. If her family could spare that kind of money, it wouldn’t be on welfare. What was she to do?
She had an answer. She would find a part-time job. Which she did. Working as a drugstore cashier, she earned the necessary sum and more, and went on the trip. And having accepted that any higher education she’d have a chance of acquiring would depend on her own efforts, she kept on working, building up a college fund.
Kawasaki City’s response, when it found out, was prompt. Welfare families must report all earned income, so that it may be deducted from welfare payments, which are issued on the assumption that the family has no income. Maki hadn’t reported hers, and would have to return it. The amount involved was 325,986 yen. When the family balked, the city took it to court.
“Maybe it’s shameful to be on welfare,” Maki’s father tells Shukan Josei. “It’s certainly not something I’m proud of. But I am happy to see Maki developing into the sort of person who can stand on her own two feet… She knows we’re poor. She’s never asked for anything for herself, never got an allowance.”
Besides, the father insists, it’s not strictly true that her earnings were not reported. Far from concealing the fact, he says, he mentioned it with pride to the welfare case worker. Whatever reporting he was required to do beyond that he did not know about; the case worker, he says, should have told him. The case worker riposted that the requirements were written up in the pamphlets welfare recipients are supposed to read.
For two and a half years, the Yokohama District Court heard arguments back and forth, ruling finally in March this year that Maki’s determined pursuit of education was admirable and the city’s proceedings against her were “cruel.” The city has decided not to appeal, confining itself to a commitment to explain the rules more fully to recipient families in future. In the city’s defense, it can be said that the problem of welfare cheating is a wide one – in 2013, the welfare ministry said it dealt with 43,230 allegations of unreported earnings by welfare recipients.
As for Maki, she’s now 19 and a 4th-year university student, busy job-hunting.© Japan Today