Twenty-nine disabled people and one parent of a disabled person from eight prefectures — Tokyo, Saitama, Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Hiroshima and Fukuoka — filed lawsuits Oct. 31 with district courts in their prefectural capitals contending that a law designed to help disabled people violates the Constitution.

The Law Supporting Disabled People and Their Self-Reliance was enacted with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito in October 2005 and went into effect in April 2006. Under the law, disabled people in principle must pay 10 percent of the costs of the welfare and medical benefits they receive — a departure from the earlier principle of having disabled people pay according to what they could afford.

The plaintiffs say the law violates their human rights, specifically Articles 13, 14 and 25 of the Constitution. Article 13 calls for supreme consideration of a person’s right to the pursuit of happiness in legislation and other government affairs, to the extent that the right does not interfere with the public welfare. Article 14 guarantees equality under the law and prohibits discrimination, and Article 25 says “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultural living.” The last calls on the state to promote social welfare and security as well as public health.

A panel of the welfare ministry’s Social Security Council is holding discussions in preparation for a review of the law that will be completed next April. The council should fully discuss the law’s merits and demerits, including the principle of paying 10 percent. The bottom line should be a system that is easy to use and does not pose excessive financial burdens.

In the past, municipal governments decided what kinds of services should be provided to the disabled, depriving people of the freedom to choose. In April 2003, a new system was introduced under which prefectural governments designated welfare service providers in the private sector while disabled people selected the services and entered into contracts with the providers. Municipal governments financially supported the providers, and the users of the services paid a portion of the cost.

However, the expanded scope of available services and the increased use of them strained the system financially. So the current law was enacted under which municipal governments pay 90 percent of the cost of benefits (25 percent of which is subsidized by the prefectural governments and 50 percent by the central government), while disabled people in principle pay the remaining 10 percent.

The law caps the monthly financial burden on disabled people at ¥37,200. For low-income disabled people, there are two lower caps — ¥24,600 and ¥15,000. Disabled people on welfare do not have to shoulder any costs.

The ministry explains that by providing services that will help disabled people find employment at ordinary companies, the law can be of great help to disabled people who have the will and ability to work. The ministry also says that through deregulation measures, such as allowing closed shops and unused school classrooms to be used for social welfare services, the law helps expand the scope of services offered to disabled people.

But the principle of paying 10 percent of the costs has caused hardships for many disabled people. As a result, the central government has implemented a series of measures to lighten the financial burden. At present, disabled people shoulder about 3 percent of the costs on average. Some municipalities have also introduced their own measures to lighten the financial burden on local disabled people. Despite these measures, though, the system’s basic nature remains: The more serious a person’s disability is, the more that person has to pay as he or she requires more special services.

Since the law even regards the employment of disabled people at special workshops as a “service,” absurd situations have arisen. A 51-year-old woman in Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture — one of the plaintiffs and the mother of a 28-year-old man who suffers from serious autism — set up a workshop for disabled people with other parents. After the law went into effect, disabled people employed at the workshop were required to pay ¥24,000 a month despite earning only ¥6,000 per month. After a measure to lighten this burden was introduced in 2007, the fee was reduced to ¥1,500 per month for most people at the workshop.

The ministry panel should carefully examine the problems that have cropped up since the law went into effect and devise a system that is fair for disabled people. It may also have to consider increasing monthly pensions for the disabled, which now range from ¥60,000 to ¥80,000.

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