At the end of 2008, a so-called tent village for laid-off temporary workers in Tokyo's Hibiya Park drew nationwide attention. About 500 unemployed people gathered and called for public support for employment.
Heading the village was Makoto Yuasa, 39, secretary general of non-profit organization Moyai. A law graduate from Tokyo University, his thesis was “The left wing in the pre-war era.” In the late 1990s, Yuasa started his activities for homeless people and the poor. He launched Moyai in 2001, acting as a guarantor to help homeless people find a place to live.
Journalist Hideyoshi Kabashima, who has written stories about Yuasa before, says, “Yuasa has acted as a guarantor for more than 300 homeless people and helped 1,000 people get public welfare benefits. His contribution to poverty issues is great because of his organizational and strategic commitments.”
While Yuasa's activities have been welcomed by the unemployed, a so-called “poverty business” that exploits money from the public sector for those people is now becoming a new social problem.
Journalist Hatarau Nomura explains what the poverty business is like. “An organization requested the unemployed to kick back 100,000 yen from 140,000-yen welfare benefits as a monthly cost for residence and food it offers. In reality, the unemployed are given a six-mat room to live in with another roommate, and instant noodles. They can take a bath only three times a week.”
In fact, members of some organizations, which have been blacklisted by the Tokyo metropolitan government's welfare department, were spotted in the tent village, according to a metropolitan government official.
Yuasa's second business has also caused some controversy. He runs AWN (Asia Worker's Network), a recycling shop for electrical appliances. A spokesperson for AWN says the company makes more than 50 million yen profit a year. AWN sells recycled appliances and furniture for 40,000 yen and 25,000 yen respectively. AWN's spokesperson says the company sometimes sell their products to those who are receiving support from Moyai.
Critics say that in the United Kingdom, which is one of the leading countries offering support to the poor, no one who runs charity organizations owns profitable organizations at the same time because they don't want people to misunderstand that they are exploiting the poor.
According to regulations, the local city office can provide a maximum of 24,800 yen for necessary electrical appliances. For special needs approved, 39,700 yen is provided. If applicants don't buy anything, the money must be returned, according to a welfare official of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
Meanwhile, as the number of unemployed people rise, the process of screening who is eligible to receive public support is not working effectively. One unemployed man who spent New Year's Eve in the tent village says, “I saw some who were really looking for jobs and others who just wanted a free feed in the village. Some were just sleeping and some were stealing others' belongings.”
A metropolitan government official admits things were chaotic at the tent village. “We usually spend two weeks making a decision on each welfare benefit recipient. This time, we simplified the process so we could give welfare benefits within a few days. I'm afraid that drew welfare cheats.” (Translated by Taro Fujimoto)© Japan Today