Statement Calling for Full Payment by the State of Welfare Benefits for Disaster Victims in Affected Areas and for Holding Democratic Discussions Regarding Reform of the Public Assistance System
Despite a surge in the number of welfare recipients due to the severe employment situation, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (“MHLW”) reportedly commenced a major overhaul of the public assistance system for the purpose of curbing the public assistance expenses. On May 30, 2011, “the council on the public assistance system among the national and local governments” was held with the Minister, a Senior Vice Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary of the MHLW, and representatives of local entities (The National Governors’ Association, the Japan Association of City Mayors and the National Association of Towns and Villages) in attendance.
According to the media reports, on the one hand, Osaka City Mayor Hiramatsu urged for full payment of welfare benefits by the national government. On the other hand, while showing the prospect that a series of applications for public assistance will be made by those who lost their employment and houses in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare, Mr. Hosokawa, presented four items on the agenda: 1) strengthening of support for employment and self-reliance; 2) improvement of medical and housing assistance; 3) prevention of fraudulent receipt of benefits; and 4) streamlining the relationship between “the second safety net” and public assistance; thus failing to include the full payment of welfare benefits by the national government in the agenda.
Meanwhile, in the disaster-stricken Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, an increasing number of welfare benefits have been terminated due to each municipalities own implementation of the system such as recognizing donation money and similar things as income, which runs counter to the notice “The implementation of public assistance for victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake (No.3)” dated May 2, 2011, issued from the Director of the Public Assistance Division of the Social Welfare and War Victims' Relief Bureau of the MHLW. There are concerns that similar cases may eventually occur in other disaster areas. For the purpose of supporting disaster victims, instead of executing the reform of the system in order to cut down the public assistance expenses, the national government is urgently required to bear all the public assistance expenses restricted to the disaster regions for the time being, while thoroughly correcting and providing guidance for the above-mentioned implementation of the system against the notice, and carrying through the principles of the national responsibility prescribed in Article 25 of the Constitution and in Article 1 of the Public Assistance Act in order to reduce the financial burden in the disaster regions.
The aforementioned “council on the public assistance system” has serious flaws: its opening was publicized only a week before; it was held behind closed doors; and it is severely lacking in transparency with regards to its legal status and procedures for holding the council, among other flaws. The public assistance system plays a crucial role in supporting the subsistence of citizens as the last safety net. A fundamental reform of the system, therefore, should be openly and democratically discussed with the participation of welfare recipients, their support groups, attorneys, and academic experts.
The JFBA calls for the national government to thoroughly correct and provide guidance to municipalities in the disaster-stricken regions for their implementation of the public assistance system which runs counter to the notice and to urgently bear all public assistance expenses restricted to the disaster regions. The JFBA also expresses deep concern over the holding of the above-mentioned “council on public assistance”, and firmly requests that the reform of the public assistance system should be prudently discussed in a public place with citizen participation.
June 15, 2011
Japan Federation of Bar Associations