Japan: Benefit cuts threaten social protection of the poor, UN rights experts warn

General Press Releases Thursday May 24, 2018 15:23
Bangkok--24 May--OHCHR-Bangkok

UN human rights experts* are urging the Government of Japan to review a series of planned benefit cuts which threaten the minimum social protection for the poor, particularly those with disabilities, single parents and their children, and older people living in poverty.

The warning follows a decision by the Japanese Government in December last year to cut the level of benefits for low-income households by up to five percent over the next three years. The austerity measures will hit two-thirds of households currently receiving State assistance.

"In an affluent, developed country like Japan, these measures reflect a conscious political decision which directly undermines the rights of the poor to live with dignity," said the experts.

"Even in times of austerity, Japan is under an obligation to ensure a basic level of social protection for all without discrimination. Austerity measures of this nature, adopted without careful consideration of their impact on the human rights of the poor, are in violation of Japan's international obligations," they added.

The cuts follow similar budget reductions in 2013 and the experts say the decision by the Japanese Government to base them on the spending pattern of the bottom 10 percent of low-income households is questionable.

"The minimum living costs determined on this basis do not embody an adequate standard of living as required by international human rights law. By reducing benefits based on this flawed methodology, Japan is condemning more and more people to living in poverty," the experts emphasised.

"Old age poverty and social exclusion will lead, as often is the case, to enormous suffering in silence. If these policies are left uncorrected, they will hurt those who are most vulnerable to poverty – notably, older women, female heads of households, and women with disabilities," the experts stressed.

"People with disabilities will be hit hardest, amid reports of rising involuntary institutionalisation and suicides because of the increased financial burden. The benefit cuts effectively deprive persons with disabilities to exercise their right to live independently within their community, guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities," the experts said.

The experts are calling on the Government to conduct a full human rights assessment of the cuts which are due to be brought in October this year, and adopt necessary measures to mitigate their negative impact in compliance with their international obligations.

The experts also noted that the Government is currently considering amendments to the Public Assistance Act, which may potentially have the effect of restricting the right to health care of those on social welfare on an equal basis with non-recipients. "Differential access to medicines based on one's social status amounts to discrimination prohibited by international human rights law. We strongly urge the Government to carefully reconsider the amendments," said the experts.

The experts have contacted the Government to express their concerns.

*The UN experts: Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert onforeign debt and human rights; Ms. Catalina Devandas, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; and Ms. Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page - Japan

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