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HOME  > Past issues  > 2015 May 20 - 26  > Welfare cuts lead to fatal fire accident in Kawasaki
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2015 May 20 - 26 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Welfare cuts lead to fatal fire accident in Kawasaki

May 24, 2015
Two flophouses burned down before dawn on May 17 in Kawasaki City near Tokyo, leaving nine people dead and 19 injured. This is a tragedy caused by the national and local governments’ poor policy for the needy.

There are about 50 wooden flops in Kawasaki Ward of the city, located in the center of the Keihin (Tokyo-Yokohama) Industrial Zone. During the high economic growth period in the 1960s, lodgings of this kind were mainly used by day laborers. Most users today are elderly people on welfare. It is said that some renters have been staying there for more than a decade.

Inaba Tsuyoshi, leader of a civic group supporting the homeless and needy people, points out that local welfare authorities often “advise” applicants for welfare benefits to live in flophouses, not apartments.

The ordinary room size of flophouses is two to three tatami mats (about three to five square meters). Flophouse residents have use of restrooms and bathrooms in common. The average rent of such accommodations is around 60,000 yen a month, almost equivalent to the upper limit of housing allowances provided by the city.

“Those who want to rent apartments usually have to pay deposits amounting to several months’ rent. To avoid paying this initial cost for welfare recipients, local authorities urge them to live in cheap lodging houses. It may be unavoidable for them to live there for a short period of time, but such facilities are unfit to live in for months or even years on end. In addition, many sickly old people are forced to stay in flophouses because of a shortage of special nursing homes for the aged,” Inaba said.

Japanese Communist Party members of the Kawasaki City Assembly have taken up this issue many times, prompting the authorities to help welfare recipients living in such low-quality rooming houses move to apartments as early as possible. In response to the JCP demand, the city has so far provided more than 50 recipients with apartments.

A 65-year-old man moved to a flat in the city after living in a flophouse for three years. “While living in a flop, a person gradually loses his sense of dignity. After finding a job recently, I finally came to realize a meaningful life,” he said.

The central government is planning to reduce housing allowances for people on welfare starting in July.

Past related article:
> People on welfare protest planned slashes in welfare benefits [January 9, 2015]
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