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Court nullifies 'illegal' welfare cuts for Osaka Pref. residents in 1st win for plaintiffs

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs hold up banners including one reading "Suit won," following the ruling by the Osaka District Court in the city of Osaka's Kita Ward on Feb. 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Rei Kubo)

OSAKA -- The Osaka District Court on Feb. 22 nullified local governments' decisions to reduce the benefits of welfare recipients, siding with recipients in a class action brought by a group of 42 plaintiffs in Osaka Prefecture.

    The plaintiffs argued that the curtailment of their welfare benefits since 2013 violated the Japanese Constitution, which guarantees the right to life, and demanded that the local governments invalidate benefit reductions and that the state pay compensation.

    In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Hajime Morikagi stated, "There were mistakes and deficiencies in the national government's judgment process and in procedures to revise the welfare benefit criteria to reduce the amounts on the grounds of falling prices." The ruling also deemed the revisions to the welfare benefit criteria by the welfare minister as inconsistent with objective data and expert opinions. While the ruling said the benefit cuts were illegal, it stopped short of declaring them unconstitutional.

    The court decision was the second to be delivered among similar lawsuits filed with 29 district courts across Japan, and the first in which welfare recipients have won. In June last year, the Nagoya District Court dismissed a claim by welfare recipients, after recognizing that the benefit cuts were "within the discretion" of the welfare minister.

    The Japanese government cut the amount of "livelihood assistance" under the welfare benefits -- which covers food, utility and other expenses -- by an average of 6.5% and as much as 10% in some cases between 2013 and 2015 on the grounds of price plunges and other reasons. The total amount of reductions reached 67 billion yen (about $633 million). Local governments also altered the amount of their benefit payments based on the criteria updated by the state.

    The plaintiffs in the Osaka case had demanded that Osaka and 11 other cities in Osaka Prefecture where they live revoke their decisions to slash the benefit amounts and sought 10,000 yen (about $94.5) in compensation per person from the state.

    (Japanese original by Haruka Ito, Osaka City News Department)

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