VOX POPULI: Welfare recipients need generosity, not prejudice

March 06, 2013

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

Several days ago, this column quoted poet Daigaku Horiguchi (1892-1981), a noted translator of French literature. It might be timely to refer to him again.

Horiguchi once translated a short passage by the French critic Remy de Gourmont (1858-1915). It reads: "Most men who speak ill of women are speaking ill of a single woman."

This statement is penetrating. People tend to make generalizations based on only very limited knowledge and impressions. Therefore, "women" in the above statement could be replaced, for example, with "youngsters," "middle-aged men," "Americans," "doctors" or "newspaper reporters."

The same goes for welfare recipients.

Last year, it was revealed that the mother of a popular and successful comedian was on welfare despite her son's comfortable income. It caused a stir and led to widespread criticism of those who receive welfare.

It was a typical example of stigmatizing an entire category of people after someone found fault with one individual.

The critics lambasted welfare recipients for being idle or for wasting money on gambling.

But finger-pointing like this, at a small number of people, can cause others to develop prejudice against the entire group of those on welfare.

The issue seems to have gone all the way in Ono, Hyogo Prefecture. On Feb. 27, the city government submitted a bill to the municipal assembly for an ordinance requiring citizens to notify authorities when they see welfare recipients spending cash in pachinko parlors and on other nonessential activities.

If it seems too absurd to be true, remember that April Fools Day is still a few weeks away.

Some people may disagree with me. But to begin with, ordinary citizens have no way of knowing who is receiving welfare. Therefore, the proposed ordinance can hardly be effective.

Moreover, it could fuel prejudice against welfare recipients there in Ono and more widely across the nation.

The Asahi Shimbun's "Koe" (voice) letters-to-the-editor column recently ran correspondence from a female welfare recipient about the central government's plan to reduce the size of welfare handouts. "Aren't welfare recipients allowed to have fun?" she asked. "Must we carry on living with no hope, with a feeling of gloom?"

Her piercing voice seemed to tremble with despair.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 6

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.
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Ono Mayor Tsutomu Horai explains in the municipal assembly on Feb. 27 why the city government submitted the controversial bill concerning welfare recipients. (Hajime Hirokawa)

Ono Mayor Tsutomu Horai explains in the municipal assembly on Feb. 27 why the city government submitted the controversial bill concerning welfare recipients. (Hajime Hirokawa)

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  • Ono Mayor Tsutomu Horai explains in the municipal assembly on Feb. 27 why the city government submitted the controversial bill concerning welfare recipients. (Hajime Hirokawa)

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