|Finance Minister Aso Pressured By Media To Explain Poverty Issues|
The smell of miso soup and rice wafts from a kitchen as a brigade of volunteers put their cooking skills to use on a recent Saturday evening in Tokyo’s commuter belt.
In an adjoining room, children chat and make paper cutouts while they await the arrival of what, for some, will be their only proper meal of the day.
Kawaguchi children’s cafeteria is one of hundreds to have sprouted up in Japan in recent years in response to a problem few associate with the world’s third biggest economy: child poverty.
The Health and Welfare Ministry announced last Wednesday 3.5 million Japanese children – or one in six of those aged up to 17 – are from households classed as experiencing relative poverty.
Japan’s relative rate of poverty has risen over the past three decades to 16.3%, while the rate in the US, though higher at 17.3%, has fallen.
“The global economic turmoil in 2008 hit women in their 20s and 30s particularly hard,” said Finance Minister Taro Aso. “Those in full-time work were forced to take irregular or part-time jobs with low pay and no bonuses or annual pay rises. In some cases, these women have to borrow money, sometimes from loan sharks, and then end up working in the commercial sex industry to pay off their debts. It’s easy for them to get trapped in a negative cycle”, Aso concluded as he addressed the media yesterday.
Their plight is a rarely seen consequence of Japan’s struggle to steer its economy out of the doldrums after more than two decades of stagnation and deflation. Four years after Shinzo Abe became prime minister for a second time, campaigners say the rise in poverty is evidence that his grand plan for growth – known as Abenomics – has failed to deliver for many families.
Japan now has some of the worst wealth inequality and highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, according to a Unicef report released in April that ranked Japan 34th out of 41 industrialised countries.
Of the 3.5 million children who are eligible for state support, only 200,000 actually receive any – a low take-up rate that campaigners blame on the stigma attached to living on social security.