NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Respect Your Elders -- They Keep The Roof Over Your Head

August 11, 2010

This week marks the start of Japan's Obon holiday in which families take time off to pay respect to their ancestors, a tradition conveying the importance Japanese families attach to their deceased relatives.  But some have been clinging on to their ancestors' memories and pensions rather too assiduously, says the Financial Times. 

In one case, the corpse of a man who would be 111 years old was kept in a Tokyo house for nearly 30 years.  The authorities are reportedly investigating his family on suspicion of pension fraud and negligence. 

The Japanese press has since tallied nearly 60 instances of centenarians registered with local authorities to receive pensions but whose whereabouts are unknown.  The macabre findings have refocused attention on the ability of the Japanese government to cope with its ageing population, particularly its capacity to pay their pensions, says the Financial Times: 

  • Part of the problem is that economic stagnation and deteriorating employment conditions have reduced the ability of the younger generation to support the elderly.
  • The proportion of "working poor" or people earning less than $23,000 annually is rising every year.
  • Meanwhile, there are as many people on the waiting list for nursing homes as there are living in them. 

"The entire welfare system in Japan has depended on a growth model that has stalled," says Richard Ronald, a lecturer in urban studies at the University of Amsterdam.  "Dependency on the pensions of older household members is not surprising considering the poor income prospects of younger generations." 

Commentators say that identifying fraudulent claims is made more difficult because there is no single official body responsible for benefits.  There are also laws that prevent authorities carrying out thorough checks on individuals. 

Source: Lindsay Whipp, "Respect your elders -- they keep the roof over your head," Financial Times, August 7, 2010. 


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