Asuport: A Comprehensive Self-Support Program for Welfare Recipients
Saitama Prefectural Government

The Problem

Due to the effects of a progressively aging population and the economic recession, the number of people on welfare assistance in Japan in March 2012 rose to 2,108,096, which became a record high. Amid this sudden welfare recipient increase, expenses for maintaining the welfare system are rising and three main challenges have emerged.

(1) “Chain of Poverty”

A low high school advancement rate of children from families on welfare has been linked to disparities in the educational environment and an increase in the “chain of poverty” occurrence rate. (A “chain of poverty” is a social phenomenon where people who received welfare during childhood are dependent on welfare again once they become adults.) In Saitama Prefecture, the high school advancement rate of children from families on welfare is 86.9%. This figure is 11.1 percentage points lower than the prefectural average (98%). If nothing is done to improve this figure, the “chain of poverty” occurrence rate in Saitama Prefecture will likely rise.

(2) Increasing Number of Unemployed Young Families

Due to the economic recession precipitated by the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008, the number of unemployed families on welfare in Saitama Prefecture rose from 4,718 in 2010 to 12,737 in 2012--a 270% increase. Furthermore, it has become more difficult for people without an employment history and/or no specialized knowledge or skills to find jobs.

(3) Difficulties with Securing Housing

When people who lost their homes receive welfare, they enter free or low-cost housing facilities until they find an apartment. There are 1,693 people living in 34 free or low-cost housing facilities in Saitama Prefecture. However, due to reasons such as not having a guarantor, living on the streets for an extended period of time, requiring care because of sickness and/or disabilities, or holding a large amount of debt, they are not able to find apartments to move into. Therefore, 70% of people living in free or low-cost housing facilities in Saitama Prefecture are staying for over a year, which increases the cost of welfare services.

Along with these aforementioned challenges, the number of social workers in welfare offices has not caught up with this overall increase in welfare recipients; thus, a negative cycle has occurred where the government cannot provide proper assistance to decrease the number of welfare recipients.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
A little bit past 6 p.m. on a weekday, thirty middle school students are working diligently on Math and English homework drills in one room of a Saitama-based nursing home. There are also ten university students and former teachers present who are helping with instruction. One former high school teacher sits next to a boy who slightly increased his score on a recent test. The teacher assures the boy, “Work on the parts that you understand, and if there is something that you do not understand, just ask me.” The students who attend these classes come from families on welfare: 75% come from one-parent households and 16% do not attend school at all. Additionally, a majority of these students deal with challenges such as economic difficulties, divorced parents, domestic violence, parent(s) suffering from mental illnesses, and parent(s) who have accumulated a large amount of debt.

Correlating with the student’s level of understanding, the homework content each student tackles varies. One 15 year-old middle school girl who has been working on math problems in this classroom over the last two weeks confides, “At school, I don’t like when the other students think ‘You don’t even understand this?!’ So, it’s difficult to ask questions in class. Here though, I can ask any question and receive advice.” Another girl cheerfully states, “I can talk freely here. It’s fun!” and giggles.

This is just one past example of a classroom environment supported by the Saitama Prefectural Government-sponsored program Asuport. The name “Asuport” means “support for tomorrow” and was created from a combination of the Japanese words “ashita” (tomorrow) and “sapōto” (support). In March 2012, 305 out of 801 third year middle school students from families on welfare participated in this program, and 97% of these participants advanced to high school. Comparing this figure with the high school advancement rate of children from families on welfare in Saitama Prefecture (86.9%), this rate improved around ten percentage points. In addition to education, Asuport provides assistance for helping welfare recipients find work and housing. Over the past two years, 1,059 out of 3,110 welfare recipients who were provided assistance from Asuport were hired for jobs. Furthermore, 1,129 out of 1,671 people who lost their homes were able to secure stable housing through Asuport.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
1. Saitama Prefectural Government
Traditionally, only welfare offices provided assistance to welfare recipients. However, the Saitama Prefectural Government solicited support from the private sector in order to implement Asuport, a comprehensive self-support program that assists in three areas: education, work, and housing. As the leader of this program, the Saitama Prefectural Government carries out full project management (e.g. policymaking, securing project funds, instructing and supervising welfare offices, and managing project progress).

2. Asuport
With 131 professional staff members who provide support to welfare recipients, Asuport consists of three private organizations entrusted by the prefectural government. Educational services are provided by an organization with members comprised of retired school teachers and workers from child counseling centers and welfare offices. Work services are provided by organization members who have an abundant amount of work experience. Finally, housing services are provided by professionals who are certified social workers.

3. Welfare Offices
For people living in poverty, social workers from 43 welfare offices in Saitama Prefecture survey whether or not welfare support is necessary and implement procedures for issuing monthly welfare financial support. With the establishment of Asuport, social workers are able to collaborate with Asuport staff members to provide various support services.

4. Intensive Care Homes for the Elderly
Social welfare corporations that manage 14 intensive care homes for the elderly defray the costs (water, electricity, and heating) needed to run classrooms where middle school students from families on welfare can learn. Middle school students who come to these classrooms not only learn school subjects but volunteer at these facilities as well. As a result, they can interact with a segment of the local community.

5. Universities
446 students from 35 universities volunteer and provide one-on-one learning support for children who come to these classrooms.

6. Cooperation from Companies and Organizations
20 small to medium-sized businesses and NPOs in industries such as agriculture, nursing, and warehousing provide on-site job training for welfare recipients.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
1. Project Organizers

The Saitama Prefectural Government established Asuport in September 2010, and the prefectural government’s Social Welfare Division in the Department of Welfare executes program planning and management. Individual support for welfare recipients is entrusted and carried out by private organizations. 131 professional staff members belong to Asuport’s education, work, and housing divisions and provide appropriate assistance.

2. Targets for Achievement and Implementation Methods

(i) Education Division

Staff members visit families on welfare who have middle school students (2,300 middle school students total), speak with parents about how advancing in school will benefit their children’s future, and encourage children to continue on to high school. At seventeen classroom locations in the prefecture, college student volunteers provide around one-third of these students with educational guidance and support for advancing to high school. The goal is to raise the high school advancement rate of children from families on welfare in Saitama Prefecture (86.9%) to the prefectural average of 98%.

(ii) Work Division

Job training is provided to 2,800 unemployed welfare recipients. The objective is to help at least 1,000 of these job trainees gain employment within the next two years. Staff members prepare specialized on-site job training and job hunting seminars for welfare recipients. They also try to motivate and help them acquire additional work skills.

(iii) Housing Division

Staff members provide support to 1,800 welfare recipients who lost their homes. The goal is to help 1,200 of these recipients secure stable housing within the next two years. By assisting with welfare services, mending ties in welfare families, and accompanying welfare recipients to real-estate agencies, staff members are able to solicit understanding from landlady/landlord(s) and real-estate agent(s). This support helps welfare recipients acquire housing and live a stable and secure lifestyle.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
February 2010 Declaration from the Prefectural Social Welfare Council
・The Prefectural Social Welfare Council declared the necessity of the prefectural government to implement a self-support project for assisting welfare recipients and provide support for children from poverty-stricken families.

April 2010 Project Team Inauguration
・The Self-reliance Support Group, a new group in the prefectural government’s Social Welfare Division, is established, and two full-time staff members are appointed.

April to May 2010 Surveying Needs
・A hearing with prefectural welfare office workers is organized and discussions are held regarding which types of support should be prioritized.

August 2010 Appointing Private Organizations
・The government appointed private organizations that will be entrusted with projects relating to educational, work, and housing support for welfare recipients.

September 2010 Asuport Project Commencement
・A kick-off meeting was held with 138 participants from welfare offices and private organizations and thirteen support offices were established.

October 2010 Establishment of Classrooms and Shelters
・Five classroom locations at intensive care homes for the elderly and two shelters for people on welfare who lost their homes were established.

February 2011 Start of Job Skills Training
・Janitorial cleaning training (class size of 45 people) commenced.

April 2011 Expansion of Education Division
・The academic year of youth targeted for the education division expanded (from third year middle school students to all middle school students) and the number of classroom locations increased from five to ten.
August 2011 Expansion of Job Skills Training
・Service staff training (class size of 30 people) commenced.

April 2012 Expansion of Education Division
・The education division increased the number of classroom locations from ten to seventeen and cultivated partnerships with twenty companies that will provide job training.

April 2012 Expansion of Job Skills Training
・On-site job training (class size of 120 people), a basic skills improvement seminar (seminar size of 400 people), a job training seminar (seminar size of 400 people), and a certification acquisition seminar (seminar size of 50 people) were held.

September 2012 Expansion of Job Skills Training
・Horticulture (class size of 15 people) and care giver (class size of 60 people) trainings commenced.

October 2012 Expansion of Job Skills Training
・A job training camp with 40 participants commenced.
iddle school students to all middle school students) and the number of classroom locations increased from five to ten.
August 2011 Expansion of Job Skills Training
・Service staff training (class size of 30 people) commenced.

April 2012 Expansion of Education Division
・The education division increased the number of classroom locations from ten to seventeen and cultivated partnerships with twenty companies that will provide job training.

April 2012 Expansion of Job Skills Training
・On-site job training (class size of 120 people), a basic skills improvement seminar (seminar size of 400 people), a job training seminar (seminar size of 400 people), and a certification acquisition seminar (seminar size of 50 people) were held.

September 2012 Expansion of Job Skills Training
・Horticulture (class size of 15 people) and care giver (class size of 60 people) trainings commenced.

October 2012 Expansion of Job Skills Training
・A job training camp with 40 participants commenced.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
1. Strengthening the Support System of Collaboration with Private Organizations

Obstacle: Fragile Support System
The ratio of social worker to welfare recipients in Saitama Prefecture was 1 to 82 in 2010, and this figure became 1 to 90 in 2012. Since social workers with a lack of experience have to take on several assignments, there were continuing cases where these workers became physically and emotionally exhausted. Furthermore, although private organizations provide support for welfare recipients, issues relating to the protection of personal information prevented government and private organizations from working together to offer support.

Solution: Proactive Collaboration with Private Organizations
With the establishment of Asuport, the prefectural government became the leader of this project and staffed 131 personnel. Private organizations hired these professional workers, and the prefectural government pays for their necessary expenses. Overall, the number of workers involved in welfare assistance rose from 500 to 615. Regarding government organizations providing personal information to private organizations, the prefectural government established appropriate rules (ex. welfare offices would need to give an explanation to and receive consent from welfare recipients before providing personal information to private organizations) and took responsibility for sharing this information. As a result, government and private organizations were able to work together to provide support.

2. Providing Comprehensive Support

Obstacle: Consultation Services Based on Diverse Content
It became necessary to create independent consultation centers in order to address needs relating to educational assistance for advancing to high school, job training, and apartment search support. A majority of these consultation services are fee-based, and many welfare recipients do not have the financial means to utilize them. Moreover, even if they could use these services, they would need to explain the same information several times to different consultants, which would require tireless effort.

Solution: Uniform Educational, Work, and Housing Support
Asuport is a single organization that provides assistance focused on all aspects of a welfare recipient’s life, and all consultation services are free. Finally, since consultants at Asuport provide one-on-one services, there is no need for welfare recipients to explain the same information several times.

3. Outreach (Visit-based Support)

Obstacle: The Consultation “Waiting Game”
Several government organizations simply “wait” for people with problems to come for consultation services. However, there are many people who do not know where to go for consultation services, who cannot come for consultations due to illnesses or disabilities, and who do not take advantage of these services. Also, there are parents who do not have an interest in their children advancing in school, people who have limited or no motivation to work, and mentally disabled people who are homeless and do not receive care. These groups of people cannot be provided with proper consultations and assistance.

Solution: Outreach Assistance
Asuport personnel visit schools, welfare recipient homes, unemployment offices, free/low-income housing facilities, etc. and provide consultation services and assistance. Through this method, the needs of welfare recipients become apparent and concrete assistance can be offered.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
1. Securing Human Resources with Field Expertise

The two most important points for executing Asuport’s goals are securing professional staff with knowledge concerning self-support assistance for a wide range of welfare recipients and maintaining a system that provides efficient support services. Based on collaborations with private organizations that have personnel with expertise in the areas of education, work, and housing, 131 staff members from these organizations implement this project.

(i) Education Division

The education division is comprised of 45 members: university researchers; teachers from elementary, middle, high, and special needs schools; social welfare counselors; and clinical psychologists from the Association of Sai No Kuni Children and Youth Support Network. This organization specializes in issues concerning children and young people and collaborates with 35 universities. Also, there are 446 registered university student volunteers that assist with the education division’s projects, and monthly workshops are held for these volunteers to improve their skills.

(ii) Work Division

51 members from the Japan Workers’ Co-operative Union belong to the work division. This rapidly growing organization supports government projects. For example, it provides job assistance to unemployed young adults and people with disabilities, offers support for families raising children, carries out programs that care for the elderly, and manages public facilities.

(iii) Housing Division

The housing division is made up of 35 staff members from the Saitama Association of Certified Social Workers. This specialized organization maintains a regional support network for people who lost their homes.

2. Financial Resources

The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare recognizes Asuport as a self-support program for welfare recipients, and a majority of this program’s operation budget comes from national government grants. The total budget is nine hundred million yen, and each division receives around 3 hundred million yen apiece. 74.4% of the total budget is used for personnel expenses, and the rest is allocated for expenses such as maintaining support offices and shelters and business travel.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
1. Goodwill from the Local Community
Intensive care homes for the elderly that provide classroom space believe that helping out poverty-stricken children is their mission. Thus, they wanted to provide free assistance. Moreover, other prefectural residents such as university student volunteers, business managers from small and medium-sized businesses, and real estate agents wanted to help those in need within the community. Thanks to these expressions of goodwill, Asuport outreach activities are flourishing.

2. Newspaper, Television, and Magazine Coverage and Recognition from Government Assemblies
Since its inception, Asuport’s innovative programs and scale of operations have been reported by newspapers, television programs, and magazines (a total of 103 reports from 39 media organizations). Regarding the education division’s projects, Nippon Television produced a documentary entitled Miracle Classrooms and the education division published a book entitled Prescription for the Times: Assisting 2 Million Welfare Recipients in Japan, Saitama Prefecture’s Challenge. As a result of this coverage, Asuport garnered recognition from national government representatives (e.g. Vice Minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and an executive officer of the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare) and local government assemblies (a total of 305 visitations to Asuport support offices by government assemblies and agencies).

3. Expansion of the Asuport Support System Nationwide by the Ministry of Health, Labour, and
In order to handle the rapid increase of welfare recipients, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare announced a new countermeasure plan for those in need entitled the “Strategy for Livelihood Support” in April 2012. As an integral part of this plan, provisions such as cooperation with and assistance from the private sector, securing various work opportunities and stable housing, and strengthening support for middle and high school students are included. Thus, Asuport is making a large impact on national policies for welfare assistance.

4. Making Support Activities Visible
Traditionally, providers of support programs for welfare recipients were restricted to public organizations, and people outside of these organizations did not know who provided assistance, when assistance was provided, and what kind of assistance was offered.

Asuport has a support structure where (1) necessary information can be provided to private organizations and (2) relevant organizations can participate in assistance activities. Furthermore, through individual consent, Asuport provided news organizations with successful support examples, and in turn, these organizations reported the value of this program’s efforts. As a result, the activities of Asuport became more visible to the public, and this project was able to garner success.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
Five elements led to Asuport’s success: strong leadership, a clear mission, setting achievable goals, a core professional staff, and building an all-around support structure.

1. Strong Leadership

The Saitama Prefectural Government has strong connections with welfare offices that hold decision-making authority, social welfare corporations, universities, NPOs, and private companies. By taking leadership of this project, the prefectural government brought about significant results in a short period of time.

2. A Clear Mission

Asuport’s mission is to help more welfare recipients achieve a higher quality of independence while reducing dependence on or misuse of welfare benefits. All parties involved focus their efforts on collaborating and finding solutions to the question “What kind of support is needed in order to enable welfare recipients to become independent?”

3. Setting Achievable Goals

Asuport set achievable but challenging goals for its three project areas so that everyone can see how progress is being made. For the education division, the goal is to increase the education advancement rate. For the labor division, the goals are to increase employment rates and class participants for vocational training. Finally, the goal of the housing division is to increase the number of people who find stable housing. These goals and their results thus far made former skeptics into supporters of Asuport.

4. A Core Professional Staff

By utilizing private organizations with members who have specialized professional experience, Asuport procured staff with a high level of expertise in their fields. As a result, Asuport’s staff members are able to sympathize and be there for children who are ignored or abused, inspire the unemployed, and give those who are homeless the courage to begin a new life. Also, staff members can further improve upon their own skills and utilize these skills for similar programs in other communities.

5. Building an All-Around Support Structure

Asuport integrates a variety of private organizations into its programs, and this structure makes it possible to provide multifaceted assistance. By establishing a resourceful support environment, Asuport aims to attract more participants and help them break their chains of poverty and become independent and self-sufficient members of society.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Saitama Prefectural Government
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Norihiro Oyama
Title:   Assistant Section Chief  
Telephone/ Fax:   +81-48-830-3271 / +81-48-830-4782
Institution's / Project's Website:
Address:   3-15-1, Takasago, Urawa-ku, Saitama City
Postal Code:   330-9301
City:   Saitama
State/Province:   Saitama
Country:   Japan

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