What Is This Thing Called Relative Poverty? Save the Mentally Disabled Living Alone in Japan From It

From the spring of 2017, I began to suffer from poverty. Around that time, my application for disability pension was denied.

Since September 1, 2016, the mentally disabled living alone in Japan have fallen into poverty one after another in the same manner.

On September 1, 2016, the disability pension system for only the mentally disabled (and the intellectually disabled) was revised for the worse.

The economic sanctions in the name of “The New Grade Determination Guidelines for Mental Disorders” were secretly implemented on us.

Since then, the grade of disability is determined SOLELY by our “ability to perform activities of daily living.” It is a simple criterion of whether or not we can eat, wash our hair, bathe, shop, etc. by ourselves.

The second page of the medical certificate

This is the second page of the medical certificate (sorry, no translation). Source: Applications and Procedures for Receiving Disability Pension|Japan Pension Service

No payments, as long as we live alone

If we can perform those daily activities without the support or assistance of others, our disability will be diagnosed as too mild and our applications will be rejected.

However, the mentally disabled already living alone can perform most of those easy daily activities by themselves. They have acquired sufficient skills and experience to live on their own.

We are not physically disabled. Even if our symptoms are severe, our physical abilities will not be so limited.

In the first place, we have no family or roommates to live with. There is no one to provide us with support or assistance in our daily lives. No choice but to live by ourselves.

No matter how severe the symptoms are, we are forced to do all of our daily activities alone in order to maintain our lives.

We can't tell false information on the medical certificate. If we do, our doctor will be arrested. So we truthfully state that we can perform most of our “daily activities” by ourselves and apply for disability pension. Naturally, our applications won't be approved.

This clever trick has effectively made it impossible for the mentally disabled living alone to receive disability pensions.

It seems to be a sly national policy to curb social security spending.

The Living Alone Economic Crisis

The amount of disability pension benefits (monthly) in US dollars

Reference: the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2014 "Survey of Pension Systems"

The economic loss from the cutoff is “at least” 600,000 Japanese yen (about $5,800) to 720,000 Japanese yen (about $7,000) per year. On a monthly basis, it amounts to 50,000 Japanese yen (about $480) to 60,000 Japanese yen (about $580).

  • Imagine your monthly salary is reduced by ​$480, €400
  • Imagine your annual income is reduced by $7,000, €5,800

Who can maintain the life as before?

Even in the “Great Depression of the Century” caused by COVID-19, the average drop in Japanese annual income is said to be around 380,000 Japanese yen (about $3,700).

We have suffered economic losses of more than 1.5 times that amount since September 2016.

Recently, it is reported that some patients were disqualified simply because they were living alone, even though they were undoubtedly to be certified as Grade 2. Normally, Grade 2 is given to people with quite serious symptoms.

In those cases, the economic loss will be 1,200,000 Japanese yen (about $11,600) to 1,440,000 Japanese yen (about $14,000) per year, or 100,000 Japanese yen (about $970) to 120,000 Japanese yen (about $1,160) per month.

Is the government going to wipe out the mentally disabled living alone?

If so, it's not sanction, it's “persecution.”

Poverty definition

There are two types of poverty.

  • Absolute poverty
  • Relative poverty

In general, the term “poverty” refers to absolute poverty. It is a condition where the living standard is so low that it is difficult for people to survive.

It can be described as life-threatening poverty. People have great difficulty in obtaining food, medical care, clothing, shelter, and so on. For example, it can be seen in the sub-Saharan Africa regions and in the refugee life.

Definition of Relative Poverty

Relative poverty is defined as follows:

  • Poorer than the majority of a certain population, such as a country, society, or region
  • Income is less than half of the national “median disposable income” or “poverty line”
Relationship between household, income amount and relative poverty in Japan
HouseholdRelative Poverty LineMedian Disposable Income

NOTE: The currency unit is US Dollars. The amounts are converted at the rate of 102.99 yen to the dollar. The table is created based on the 2019 Summary of the National Survey on Living Standards|Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

A one-person household with take-home pay of less than 1,240,000 Japanese yen (about $12,040), or monthly income of around 100,000 Japanese yen (about $1,000), is considered to be in relative poverty.

We have to pay the rent out of that monthly take-home (about $1,000). It's at least 55,000 Japanese yen (about $530) in the Tokyo metropolitan area. In addition, we also have to pay for utilities.

Eventually, we have only around 20,000 (about $190) to 30,000 Japanese yen (about $290) left in our wallets. From that money, we must cover our food expenses. It's impossible.

This is the official definition which the non-poor intellectuals defined. However, this is quite far from the reality. Under this definition, most of the people in relative poverty will be homeless.

Never discuss poverty based solely on numerical data and book knowledge.

Non-cultural life

On the other hand, as a person who has actually fallen into relative poverty, my definition of relative poverty in Japan is as follows.

  • Being hard up for cache on food, but barely survive
  • Barely secure a place to live

Food and shelter are the only things we can afford. When we pay for utilities, not a penny is left on hand.

In fact, I've spent almost nothing on clothing since 2017. And now I'm wondering if I should buy a pair of winter gloves worth a few dollars.

We live every day giving up the purchase of non-food products and other services for economic reasons.

  • Hobbies and leisure
  • Personal development
  • Socializing
  • Entering further education

Abandoning these activities means that we are no longer living a “cultural life.”

We have already said goodbye to “the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living” advocated in Article 25 of the Japanese Constitution.

Alone, too

We have a place to live: a shabby house. But we're not terribly skinny. Therefore, relative poverty is quite difficult to discern by appearance.

Moreover, we try very hard not to reveal that we are poor. Fear of being bullied, self-esteem issues, and other reasons are behind these behaviors.

We can hardly afford entertainment expenses. Therefore, we are reluctant to socialize with friends. The closer we get to them, the easier it is to expose our home environment and financial situation.

This makes it harder for us to open up to others; it becomes easier to be isolated. We are struggling financially, we are living a non-cultural life. And alone. We no longer live a human life.

What Is This Thing Called Love?

Loneliness. This is not limited to friendships. We tend to stay away from love as well. We can't afford dating expenses.

I developed depression in April 2010. But even after five years, it didn't go into remission. At that point, I made up my mind that I would be single for the rest of my life. But I didn't think I would never even experience love in my life.

We, the ones in relative poverty, live our lives staying away from situations that cost money. Consciously or unconsciously, we avoid things that we cannot afford.

For me, love is one of them. There must have been a lot of attractive women around. I think I avoided them unconsciously or couldn't even see them. I couldn't afford to fall in love.

During COVID-19, I had some spare time. When I looked back on my life in that time, the jazz standard “What Is This Thing Called Love” began to play in my head.

I have never experienced such a human thing as love. It was all I could do to get by. If I hadn't worked for a toxic company (burakku-kigyo or ankoku-kigyo), I wouldn't even have depression. There was nothing I could do but struggle to get by. There was no leeway at all.

Now, the song “You Don't Know What Love Is” also often plays in my head. Indeed, I became a person who can't understand what love is. Of course, this was in large part due to relative poverty.

Also, unhealthy

I'm afraid this is very sensitive, but I probably have ED (erectile dysfunction). I think it is psychogenic ED, a combination of depression and the lack of opportunities.

But I don't go to the hospital because I can't pay any more medical expenses.

Originally, we are not healthy because we suffer from mental illness. However, in the case of psychogenic (stress-related) diseases such as depression, the stress can cause other diseases. In my case, I have been pointed out for five years as having a severe fatty liver, dyslipidemia, and suspected liver dysfunction even though I don't drink alcohol at all.

In the late summer 2019, a humiliating incident finally led me to undergo liver disease treatment. But as expected, my living expenses and savings ran out.

So, I got a loan from the prefecture called “General Support Fund” and benefits from the city called “Housing Security Benefit” to overcome the crisis. But soon after, the COVID-19 infection spread throughout Japan.

A great deal of stress that has caused mental illness will naturally trigger physical illness as well. But once the government cuts off disability pensions for the mentally disabled living alone, no financial resources will be left to cure the other diseases. So we are even more unhealthy.

The healthy are also unhealthy

Healthy people, but in relative poverty, will also not go to the hospital unless they have an immediate life-threatening illness. Some may even dare to skip medical checkups to avoid detection of disease.

They spend money quite purposefully. If the illness is not life-threatening, they will spend money only on food, not on medical expenses.

It's simply because if they don't eat, they will starve to death. Bad health or death.

For instance, even though they actually have chronic pain, they don't go to the hospital. In this way, they reduce medical costs. But that's too unhealthy.

Free version of life

Unhealthy, non-cultural and lousy life. Now we live more like animals than human beings.

But there are many things available for free that help us live as humans.

For example, one of my hobbies is running. I can do it almost for free. We can also borrow books and CDs from public libraries. Even if we can't buy what we want, we can substitute it with what we have or even make it ourselves.

But free goods and services are not enough to cover everything.

I don't believe money can solve all things. But everything costs money.

I am fortunate to be able to do a minimum level of translation and accounting on my own. So, I was able to set up an online donation form and translate the website into English.

However, publicity campaigns, one of the most important things in social activities, have not been carried out. Simply I can' t afford them. It would be better to make a promotional video. Communicating our plight with voice will be more convincing.

However, I can't even pay for the rental of video filming equipment for just one day. I've never shot and edited a video before, so to be honest, I'd like to get some professional help.

When we fall into poverty, our potential and opportunities will always plateau at a certain point. Therefore, once we sink into poverty, it becomes difficult to get out of it. In fact, there are many children in Japan who have given up higher education due to economic reasons. The poorer we are, the harder it is for our dreams to come true.

Some of us may have given up on having dreams and hopes.

Whenever we are one step away from our goals, we always end up running out of money.

This is the limit of free version of life.

A problem you can certainly help with

Struggling with depression or any other mental disorder is in itself a great suffering. In my case, when I'm in worse condition, I become severely depressed. The freedom of mind is taken away. I become pathologically anxious, hopeless, and unmotivated. I also feel heavy-headed and extremely tired.

However, you cannot assist in the treatment and in our fight against the disease. That is because it is completely a medical matter. There is no other way but for doctors and us patients to work together sincerely to confront the illness.

But what about relative poverty?

In this regard, your kindness will lead to direct support and help. You can save us from poverty. One of the solutions is donation.

The unreasonable cutoff of disability pension has forced us the mentally disabled living alone to suffer two difficulties at the same time:

  1. Our own mental illness
  2. Relative poverty

One of these two problems can be solved with your help, or donation.

By the way, I'm having a hard time with publicity, especially outside Japan. So it would be very helpful if you could promote this campaign on social media and blogs. Even if it is not a donation, your kindness and support is really appreciated.

Help us devote ourselves to treatment

Again, the goal is not money. All I want to do is bring back the environment where I can dedicate myself to medical treatment.

I want to get the right medical treatment in the appropriate environment and return to society adequately.

Working forcibly to make up for the lost disability pension and living expenses will rather worsen our symptoms. What can be cured will not be cured.

The only thing I get from the labor is odd money, not human rights. Please let me face the depression sincerely again. Let me concentrate on my treatment again.

You Don't Know What Depression Is

The plight of the mentally disabled living alone is full of very dark and serious stories. But these stories are rather more common.

Most of the depression reported by the Japanese media has always a happy ending. But they are just the tip of the iceberg, success stories limited to those with very mild symptoms.

The Japanese media does not cover the anguish of the mentally disabled. They prefer to spotlight the physically disabled, though.
  • Beyoncé
  • Demi Lovato
  • Dwayne Johnson
  • Prince Henry, Duke of Sussex
  • J. K. Rowling
  • Lili Reinhart
  • Lady Gaga
  • Kristen Bell, and others.

There are many celebrities abroad who are open about their experience with depression or their struggle with it. Japanese celebrities hide it.

If it was cancer, they would proudly announce it; they would appear in commercials for cancer insurance.

Discuss depression

Open up our suffering honestly to others. If these actions do not spread, understanding of mental disorders will not spread either, and we will remain abominations forever.

We need to talk a lot more about depression and other mental disorders. I really think so.

You Don't Know What Relative Poverty Is

Let's open up our relative poverty, too.

The relative poverty rate in Japan is 15.7% (as of 2015). It is the second worst among the G7, after the US at 17.8% (as of 2016). The relative poverty rate for those under 17 years old is also not low at 13.9%.

Relative Poverty Rate by Country

This graph was created based on OECD Family Database - OECD

Roughly one out of every six or seven Japanese is in relative poverty. We are not alone. Don't hesitate to open up about our financial hardship.

Relative poverty can never be solved by single person's power.

I have set up an online donation form, but you can make your own original request for support that fits your individual situation. Social media may not be suitable for it. In any case, be sure to add heartfelt messages.

Let's regain our humanity as soon as possible. There must still be something we can try even in the free version of life.

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