This week, Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced a record high number of households living on welfare as of December. Of a total of 1,634,185, roughly half these households consisted of elderly people living alone without earnings.
According to the same announcement, the total number of individuals receiving welfare was 2,165,585, equivalent to 1.71% of Japan's total population.
With the burgeoning figures, local governments are under pressure to weed out those who shouldn't be on the receiving end of their largesse. To do this, reports Yukan Fuji (March 4), from 2008, the specialized job category it calls "Welfare G-men" was initiated.
"In addition to information from snitches who tattle on suspected welfare cheaters, there are situations in which cheaters will be uncovered by a case worker," says an unnamed civil service worker at a municipal office in the greater Tokyo area. "While they are recipients of welfare payments due to such reasons as 'I can't work' or 'I can't make it with this amount of income,' they are often absent from home during the daytime, which raises the suspicion they are out doing something that brings in income."
While monetary payouts vary depending on the recipient's age and makeup of his or her family, a single person living alone receives from 130,000 to 140,000 yen per month, which would also have to cover their rent.
The two investigators employed by the unnamed city are both former police officers, and should suspicions arise of irregularities, they'll commence an investigation. A single case might require several months, and when warranted, the investigators may be required to put in long hours, working late into the night.
In one case, a man in his early 30s claimed he was disabled due to an injury and unable to work. But even after his recovery, he made no effort to seek employment.
"When the case worker called on his residence, he was frequently absent, and after the investigation was initiated, the man was observed going around by car to various places," said Yukan Fuji's source. "It was finally determined he was calling on several women's apartments -- he'd even been paying monthly contracts for parking spaces at their places."
"If it had been a case of a day laborer receiving welfare while working, it would be easy to catch him red-handed. But nobody could figure out what this guy was up to. Finally we looked into his bank records and learned that he had a corporate account, with himself as the head of the business. From the record of entries, it appeared to be an agency that specialized in placing ads on the Internet. So while on the dole, the guy was obtaining income from the Internet."
The investigators asked the man to give the names of those with whom he conducted his business transactions, but he refused, insisting that "They're just friends from whom I borrowed money."
The welfare payouts to him were halted based on what was judged to be "false claims." The entire process from start to finish took three months.
In the average year, the city's two-man team typically investigates about 30 such cases, of which roughly one out of three results in suspension of payouts.
"I suppose the main objective of having the 'Welfare G-men' on the job is to discourage the false claims," says Kinki University Yoko Kinugasa. "There aren't enough case workers to go around, and it's difficult to uncover some cheaters. Using specialist investigators to go after the most egregious cases is proving effective."
As such cheating becomes increasingly intolerable, more local governments are likely to get tough with similar systems in the future, Yukan Fuji notes.© Japan Today