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The Japanese voluntary sector's responses to the increasing unmet demand for home care from an ageing population


As Japan faces the challenge of the increasing demand for home care from its ageing population in an era of economic constraints, the expectation has evolved that the voluntary sector will fill the shortfall in statutory provision through semi-volunteers providing affordable home care. Drawing on qualitative interviews with managers from 15 voluntary organisations, this article explores their experiences in trying to meet this expectation. Even though most organisations provided supplementary home-care services, the empirical evidence indicates a limited capacity to deliver this expectation, with respondents aware of the deteriorating situation. It has been ascertained that supply mechanisms differ between the traditional voluntary – and the new hybrid – organisations. The former employ ‘cost-efficient’ labour such as ‘paid volunteers’ on below minimum pay rates. In contrast, the ‘hybrids’ use paid employees at regular pay rates, a finding that contradicts optimistic assumptions about the ideological role of ‘traditional’ voluntary organisations. This article suggests the importance of acknowledging diverse responses from the voluntary sector, including the new hybrids with their acknowledgement of voluntary and commercial imperatives. Open mindedness and a preparedness to revise interpretations of the earlier ‘models’ of the voluntary sector are essential. The conclusion proposes that the best strategy to unlock the voluntary sector's full potential to deliver supplementary home care is a multi-platformed approach, with adequate public purse funding, which pragmatically maximises resources.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Mayumi Hayashi, Institute of Gerontology, Department of Social Science, Health & Medicine, Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
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