[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 140 / Oct. 15 .2007 ]
[BOOK REVIEW] 
            THE WORKING POOR: The Sickness Undermining Japan
          (Working Poor - Nihon o Mushibamu Yamai)
by NHK Special Documentary, POPLAR Publishing, 2007 (\1200+tax)
           
            POVERTY INVASION (Hinkon Shurai)
          by Yuasa Makoto, Yamabuki shoten, 2007 (\1500+tax)
           
 
Long time has passed since the Homeless and the NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) became burning social issues. Recently, again, the "poverty gap" has been spotlighted. People say that the cause of the failure of the Liberal Democrats during the past summer elections was due to their insensitivity to such a gap. Right now, the issues of the "working poor" pull the mass media interest.
"Working poor" No matter how much they work, they remain poor. They want to work but there are no job for them and become poor. The appearance of the working poor overturns the traditional vision of work that consists in thinking: "If you work hard you will be rewarded." The whole social and economic Japanese system is challenged. The main agitator was the TV documentary shows, "Working Poor" in July and December 2006. The content of the shows were collected into a book published last June. The book offers materials gathered from different places on people suffering from the sickness undermining Japan, the "working poor."
They are young people to whom the door to become a full-time employee remains closed. Apartments are out of reach and they pass the nights in "Internet-cafe" or in the so-called "comics coffee shops." They are left behind by development programs in disintegrated local communities. Many of them are women distressed with jobs and household affairs who fall into poverty, as a result of official welfare budget cuts. Bankrupted small-middle sized enterprises that are unable to compete with cheap goods from Third World countries fall also within the same category of poverty. Senior citizens forced to continue working in order to survive and to pay medical bills: children from poor families that cannot break the vicious circle of poverty, etc.
Since what time did Japan become such a country? The 2nd world economic power with a large middle class society was just an illusion?
The book "Poverty Invasion" provides a sharp analysis on the systematic causes of poverty. Mr. Yuasa, the author, is an activist that has been for many years working with homeless people, through the NPO "Moyai" (mooring rope) to support their self-sufficiency.
You can find his article on finding jobs for the homeless in the Social and Pastoral Bulletin n.120 (June 2006)
Mr. Yuasa calls the reasons to fall into poverty, "the removal of a five-storied pagoda." In other words, (1) Removal from education (2) Removal from companies (3) Removal from family (4) Removal from welfare (5) Removal from oneself (lack of self-confidence.) His theory is that a globalization and new liberalism without any brakes produce isolated people, rejected by society and destroy all safety-net systems.
Mr. Yuasa stresses the following: 1) Poverty is not the result of one's responsibility. The appearance of poor people no matter how much they work, or in other words, the "working poor" is a proof. Welfare does not save those who are about to collapse and to advice them to "work hard till the end" is to invite them to die. 2) The “poverty gap” is not an issue the issue is "poverty itself." There could be instances when a gap would be accepted, but that could never be the case with poverty that leads to death.
In the issue n. 135 (December 2006) of this Bulletin, Mr. Iwata Tetsuo rightly stresses that under the name of self-support Japan is reducing welfare assistance (confer. Report: Self-support Assistance Legislation for the Disable). The film "Sicko" shows us that efficient management through privatization erodes those public services meant to support the lives of people. Mr. Yuasa points out that, when the administration neglects poverty policies, “poverty businesses," like the dispatch of workers and shelters for poor people, squeeze further money from them.
Thus, Mr. Yuasa calls out to stand up in anger and gathering companions to change the social situation. In the film "Sicko" an Englishman, former Assembly politician, is asked: "What do you think will happen if the English government does away with the health insurance system?" His answer was, "People will revolt." Maybe this is now the right time for us Japanese to think about a revolution. Poverty causes suicides and death by starvation. We've had enough!


(Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)
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