A growing number of local governments and civilian groups in Japan are loaning smartphones to poor people to help them rebuild their lives.
Many people have lost their jobs or fallen into poverty amid the coronavirus crisis. Smartphones, seen as a lifeline, are essential for people looking for work and housing.
“(Impoverished people) can have better access to assistance and better rebuild their lives if they have smartphones,” said one person involved in lending the devices.
Restart, an incorporated organization based in the Toshima district of Tokyo, began loaning smartphones in June 2019 to people in need, such as those unable to secure user contracts with carriers. telecommunications due to a past failure in the payment of service charges. Smartphones are available to people introduced to Restart by local governments or supporting organizations and can receive mail at the addresses listed in their ID certificates.
For prepayments of 4,980 and as much for monthly fees, a borrower can use high speed data communication of up to 3 gigabytes and unlimited calls.
Loans began to increase around April 2020 amid the rise in coronavirus infections, according to Restart. The total number of borrowers stood at around 3,000 as of mid-October of this year.
Noting that men in their 50s are the largest group of borrowers, Tsubasa Takahashi, Director of Restart, said, “People in this generation probably don’t have anyone to turn to for help. Smartphones are a necessary tool to keep them connected to society.
In November last year, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare compiled a list of telecom operators that offer smartphone and cellphone service contracts even to people who are behind in payment of the fee and sent it to welfare offices and other agencies, including Restart.
In the same month, the Setagaya Council of Social Welfare, which manages the livelihood support service of the Setagaya Ward office in Tokyo, launched a service charge system from Restart to enable people in need to borrow smartphones free of charge for three months.
By mid-October of this year, nine people between the ages of 20 and 50 had become able to own their smartphones after using the council’s help system.
As people have difficulties in finding a job or finding accommodation if they do not have a telephone number, the assistance system aims to help these people to search for employment and accommodation during the period of employment. three months free loan of smartphones, according to the council.
“Smartphone lending provides strong support as it can help users gain social credibility,” said a council official.
The Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund, a support group in the capital’s Nakano district, began lending smartphones to impoverished people for free for two years in July 2020, although the fund is not on the Ministry of Social Affairs’ list. . At the end of September of this year, there were some 200 borrowers between the ages of 10 and 69. Phone requests can be made personally or through 27 support organizations across Japan for the homeless, single mothers and others in need.
The smartphones loaned by the group are low-speed models but Internet compatible. Borrowers are allowed to call a number of designated places, including their employers or support organizations.
Many borrowers are job seekers or housing seekers in their 20s and 30s, young people between the ages of 10 and 19 who have been rescued from parental violence and elderly ex-prisoners, said Daishiro Sasaki, who participates in the group phone loan program. . “We started the program to address a long-standing problem that people in need cannot have cell phones. “
With smartphones now seen as a form of identification, Sasaki stressed that telecommunications should be treated as part of human rights.
“We will work to ensure that telecommunications costs are covered by public assistance like the rent of a house,” he said.
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