Political Decisions in Japan about the Public Assistance Standard under Deregulation

Sunday, February 14, 2016
Yoshiko Miwa, Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan
The Public Assistance under Article 25 of the Constitution of Japan "All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living" is the only welfare program for poor and needy in Japan. Under this system, the national government and local governments are obligated to offset shortage to the Public Assistance Standard for households living below this standard. This study shows in what way the Japanese government transformed the methods to determine the living expense in the Public Assistance Standard (=livelihood assistance) after deregulation. The significant difference of the effects of deregulation among elements that constitute the livelihood assistance were revealed by research about official documents by the Japanese government, the Ministry of Finance (MOF), the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW), advisory councils and committees of experts. The livelihood assistance consists of the basic benefits which determined from household size or age of each member, the additional benefits related to the type of each household and members (for example, pregnancy, childcare, single parenthood, disability and old age) and the other additional benefits related to area characteristic like cold climate. After 1984, MHLW has been referencing the expenditure by households in the poorest 10 % to determine the basic benefit in the livelihood assistance, because spending on necessities decreases drastically from the upper to the lower in the class, in other words, most households in the class can't maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living. From 2004 to 2015, MOF consistently have required MHLW to cut the basic benefits of the livelihood assistance and to abolish the additional benefits. MOF have insisted that the proportion of the recipients to the total population must be referred to determine the basic benefit in the livelihood assistance. According to MOF, the ratio of the public assistance recipients is about 1.7 % of the population in 2015, thus the expenditure by the poorest 1.7 % should be referred, though it is only 10.6 % of the most recent relative poverty ratio in 2014. MHLW have refused to the requirement by MOF aiming to reduce social security payments, but have abolished additional benefits for aged people (2006) and single parenthood (2009). The addition for single parenthood was restored at the end of 2009 by change of government, but in 2015, addition for winter in cold region was reduced about 20 % on average. The government intends to reduce or abolish addition for childcare and other additions. In 2015, the sum of the livelihood and housing assistance was 95 % of the poverty line in areas with the lowest costs of living, which means the public assistance still cannot solve relative poverty. Potential adverse effects of reduction of the public assistance standards have been pointed by some of the experts in committees, but have never been examined by the ministries.