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HOME  > Past issues  > 2021 February 3 - 9  > Outsourcing of caseworkers' jobs contributory factor in rise of human rights abuses
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2021 February 3 - 9 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Outsourcing of caseworkers' jobs contributory factor in rise of human rights abuses

February 3, 2021

The very foundation of Japan's public assistance system, a major safety net for livelihood, is threatened with the growing number of people experiencing economic hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many municipalities in Japan now contract out pubic welfare caseworkers' jobs to outside private organizations.

"In my community, a mishandling of the public assistance program is occurring one after another in violation of the Public Assistance Act. Some cases are even regarded as human rights abuses," said Urano Satomi, a Japanese Communist Party member of the Tokyo's Nakano Ward Assembly.

Caseworkers' job responsibilities include understanding the situation of residents on welfare, giving advice to or discussing with people in need how to access eligible welfare benefits, and conducting an assessment regarding their eligibility for other forms of assistance. Caseworkers are also authorized to refer welfare recipients who are in ill health to hospitals.

The Nakano Ward government in 2010, the first among Tokyo's 23 wards, began outsourcing some caseworker jobs taking care of welfare recipients aged 65 and older. Accordingly, some caseworkers employed by the ward government were replaced with private staff named "casework specialists".

Here is a case example that Urano dealt with last year.

A man in his 70s who lived on the streets for a long time applied for public assistance with help from a support group. As a result, he was able to move into a small apartment. His welfare benefits were 70,000 yen a month after deducting rent. Every month, he saved some money by living frugally. One day, however, the man was told by a “casework specialist” to pay back part of the welfare benefits on the grounds that he has savings. The man, with help from the support group, approached Urano and won the withdrawal of the order to return the money.

Urano said that it was suspected to be illegal to seek the return of welfare benefits due to savings from the benefits because welfare recipients cannot afford to pay unexpected expenses without a certain amount of savings.

According to the materials Urano obtained, out of the 14 “casework specialists”, only four are certified to be caseworkers. There is a question regarding their personnel costs as well. The monthly salary of the 14 is 169,000 yen, but the ward government pays 74.25 million yen a year to the private organization these "specialists" work for.

However, the organization's business report shows that the organization spends 28.41 million yen for casework in connection with the contract with Nakano Ward. How the remaining 45.83 million yen was used is uncertain.

Urano expressed doubts about the decision to outsource CW jobs which require a high level of expertise, saying, "The ward's welfare administration is hollowing out and the number of working-poor caseworkers is increasing."

Sakurai Keita, associate professor at Ritsumeikan University who was once a caseworker, said that the central government uses the alleviation of the burden of public CWs as an excuse to promote the outsourcing of CW jobs. In many communities, one caseworker takes care of more than 80 households, exceeding the central government standards. Sakurai said that the need now is for the central government to increase the number of public CWs and secure a sufficient budget, not promote outsourcing of CW jobs.

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