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Public welfare cuts deemed constitutional in Kobe District Court ruling

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mainichi– The Kobe District Court on Dec. 16 rejected claims from 24 plaintiffs who sued four municipalities to seek reversal of welfare cuts, saying it was not unreasonable for the local governments in Hyogo Prefecture to reduce public assistance amounts.

The plaintiffs had demanded that the Hyogo Prefecture cities of Kobe, Amagasaki, Itami and Akashi revoke their decisions to reduce welfare amounts, and argued that the curtailment of these benefits violated Article 25 of the Japanese Constitution, which guarantees “the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.”

In denying the unconstitutionality of the moves, Presiding Judge Akiyoshi Koike said a decision by the central government to lower the standard amount of welfare benefits “could not be said to be unreasonable.” The plaintiffs plan to appeal to the Osaka High Court.

This was the seventh ruling handed down among similar cases filed at 29 district courts nationwide. Besides the Osaka District Court ruling in February that judged that the welfare benefit cuts were illegal, welfare recipients have lost in every case.

Between 2013 and 2015, the Japanese government cut the standard amount of “livelihood assistance” under the welfare benefits — which covers food, utility, and other expenses — by a maximum of 10%. The government cited price plunges that have occurred since 2008 and other factors as reasons for the benefit cuts, and the validity of the calculation methods was the main point at issue.

The Kobe District Court ruling pointed out that experts and others had mentioned twice in reports between 2007 and 2013 that there was a gap between the standard amount of welfare benefits and the consumer spending amounts of general low-income households. Taking into account that commodity prices fell for three consecutive years from 2008, the court concluded that “no faults or shortcomings could be recognized” in the national government’s procedure to slash the benefit amounts.