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Hi Blog. Two weeks ago Debito.org wrote on the aftermath of the Supreme Court of Japan’s ruling that NJ have “no right” to social welfare (seikatsu hogo) because they are not citizens. I have been hearing rumblings that the media have been misinterpreting this ruling due to linguistics and politics, and that an adjudged no legal right has not resulted in denials. I submit to you the corrections from Tozen Union’s Louis Carlet, with a followup from another Debito.org Commenter that are simply too good to languish within comments.
Nevertheless, as noted in that earlier Debito.org post, the point remains that there are some very nasty and xenophobic people in Japan’s political system who are capitalizing on what people think the Supreme Court said. Which may mean, in this increasingly ultra-rightist political climate, that the effect might ultimately be the same. Have a read. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
LOUIS CARLET: [Japan Times’] Otake’s article is mistaken on two major points. First, the Supreme Court in no way found foreigners ineligible for welfare. Second, the ruling, far from landmark, upheld the status quo.
The highest court overturned the High Court’s actual landmark ruling which said that foreigners have “quasi rights” to welfare.
Up until then foreigners never had the “guaranteed right” (kenri) to welfare but they were and are eligible just like Japanese citizens.
I think the problem is mistranslation. Kenri means a guaranteed right whereas “no right” in English suggests ineligible.
The only difference arising from not having the kenri is that if the welfare office rejects an application from a citizen then the Japanese person can appeal the decision to the office. A foreigner with no kenri for welfare cannot appeal at the office but only in court.
That is the ONLY difference between how foreigners and Japanese are treated by the welfare office.
Foreigners get welfare just like Japanese do. In fact the plaintiff currently gets welfare although originally rejected.
OsFish: Debito, I am very glad Louis Carlet wrote to you – I had been preparing a similar message, but his is a more authoritative voice than mine. There has been some very bad press coverage in English about this ruling, coverage which is potentially damaging for foreigners. If people wrongly believe they cannot get a benefit, they will not try to claim it. Foreigners are still eligible for this benefit (known as seikatsu hogo), and have been since the 1950s, and they get it, and on the same terms as Japanese, by dint of a Ministry notice that the ruling recognised (and which is part of Japan meeting obligations under international treaties; it’s not a fragile ornament). All this is important to know as it’s no fun being destitute.
I particularly appreciate Louis’ description of the appeal situation, which confirms something which had been leaking out in between the poor reporting: the plaintiff in the original case didn’t even have her court appeal reversed. The ruling has that little impact on the day to day situation for non-citizens. (Not that the lack of right of appeal in the office directly is a good thing, but still, I hope your readers get the point.) Newspapers have contacted municipalities with large foreign populations and they have confirmed: absolutely no change in practice. My own contacts in local government have said the same thing, and were quite distressed at the misinformation going around social media in English.
I hope you will allow me a clarification that adds to Louis Carlet’s message, and to point out a related an important error made by the Japan Times commenter Charles in the calculations that you borrowed, an error that he graciously admitted in later comments when I pointed it out to him. Once this error is taken into account, and once you delve into the figures, I think it becomes clear that the target of the right-wing party’s suggested reforms is – inevitably – not westerners, but zainichi Koreans.
The clarification that needs to be repeated over and over again is that “welfare” here does not mean “welfare” in its biggest sense of all social expenditures, such as pensions, health costs, unemployment insurance and so on. It does not mean shakai hoken in any sense at all. Welfare in this limited sense is a means-tested benefit for people who have fallen through the gaps of insurance-based social protection because they cannot contribute, or are not under the umbrella of a contributor. The main recipients are long-term disabled, single mothers (abandoned by their partners) and elderly with inadequate or no pension rights. It is a completely different system to shakai hoken and operates on a different logic of desert and eligibility. Broadly speaking, the same social insurance/social assistance split operates in large parts of the industrialised world. Japan more or less imported its system from Europe.
To repeat: welfare here does not mean shakai hoken. Please rest easy, and do NOT consider opting out based on this ruling; it’s got nothing legally or logically to do with shakai hoken. And in any case, welfare is not being taken away. People in dire straits need to know that.
To the calculations: The specific error Charles made (and acknowledged) was to take the budget for all social expenditures – including social insurance expenditures such as pensions – and compare that to expenditure on foreign recipients of one specific benefit – seikatsu hogo.
If I may run the actual calculations for you, we’ll get a clearer picture, and I think we’ll possibly see more clearly the motivations for a far right Japanese nationalist party in acting on this:
The seikatsu hogo budget for the whole of Japan was 3.8 trillion yen in 2014, according to an NHK report this year (the page has expired, unfortunately). If we assume that the 122 billion figure in the Japan Times article is correct, then we have “foreign” recipients taking up 3.2% of all seikatsu hogo expenditures. With a “foreign” population of just under 2%, that does actually mean that “foreigners” are taking more than their share of seikatsu hogo.
However, we can delve further into the figures to find out who these “foreigners” are. If you look at the excel file at no. 15 in this list, you can see the breakdown (the data are a few years old, but they’re almost certainly representative of the situation now): http://www.e-stat.go.jp/SG1/estat/GL08020103.do?_toGL08020103_&listID=000001107137
What should jump out at you is that 66% of all recipients are Koreans – almost all probably zainichi SPRs: a group that really stretches the concept of “foreign”, I’m sure you’ll agree. Of those Koreans, and quite disproportionately compared to other groups, around half of the recipients are old people. I would hazard a guess that this is a strong reflection of the economic disenfranchisement of the first post-war generation of zainichi. These are people who were disproportionately not properly or poorly integrated into the economy and welfare system. (For what it’s worth, incomer “foreigners” claim less than their “share”, but this shouldn’t be too surprising or interpreted as anything meaningful, as residence status is attached to visa status, is attached to good evidence of financial stability. Of course there are going to be fewer incomer recipients.)
Let’s combine this fact that Koreans make up the bulk of recipients with the far-right party’s suggestion that “foreign” recipients should naturalise or leave. For a westerner claiming social assistance, it would be very hard indeed to naturalise if you could not demonstrate financial stability. It’s pretty much out of the question. However, for zainichi Koreans, that financial stability condition doesn’t apply. The rules for SPR naturalisation are not strict.
So it looks to me like an attempt to coerce elderly impoverished zainichi Koreans into giving up their nationality and identity. That’s why this relatively small amount of budget money matters to these thoroughly unpleasant people.