Osaka High Court Overturns Lower Court Decision, Backs Welfare Benefit Cuts

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Osaka District Court

OSAKA (Jiji Press) — Overturning a lower court decision, the Osaka High Court dismissed Friday a petition to cancel welfare benefit cuts in 12 municipalities in Osaka Prefecture.

It was the first high court decision in a series of lawsuits filed by benefit recipients and their supporters across Japan seeking nullification of public livelihood assistance reductions by up to 10% in 2013-2015, which amounted to ¥67 billion a year. So far, nine district courts have backed the cancellation and 10 courts have favored the cuts.

In the Osaka case, about 40 plaintiffs claimed that the central government violated the constitutional right to live by lowering the standard levels of livelihood assistance, which mainly covers food expenses, in view of price falls in the past five years.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry conducts a benefit calculation base review every five years.

In February 2021, the Osaka District Court ruled that the way the welfare ministry figured the deflation rate was inappropriate and that the decision to lower the base assistance levels was out of the minister’s discretion and, therefore, illegal.

But Osaka High Court presiding Judge Akira Yamada said, “No abuse of discretionary power by the minister has been confirmed.”

“The minister has discretion to change the base aid levels because such changes do not have to be validated by experts,” Yamada noted.

He also said it was “at any rate reasonable” for the minister to take into account a household disposal income increase after the global financial crisis triggered by the 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.

In addition, the judge justified the formula to calculate the deflation rate as being adopted upon “a policy decision.”

“I’m very shocked by the categorical denial of the initial ruling,” Toshio Shingaki, 68, one of the plaintiffs, told a news conference.