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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 April 22 - May 12  > Constitution requires gov’t to compensate for loss of earnings due to COVID-19 spread
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2020 April 22 - May 12 [POLITICS]

Constitution requires gov’t to compensate for loss of earnings due to COVID-19 spread

May 10, 2020
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the biggest concern of the people is whether they can receive any support to cover losses of income caused by suspension of economic activities associated with restrictions on people’s movements and activities.

The government, however, has been slow to respond to such public concern. The 2020 supplementary budget which was enacted on April 30 offers insufficient support. It will provide one-time-only cash benefits of 100,000 yen. The Abe government on May 4 decided on the extension of the state of emergency. At a press conference held to announce this decision, while touching on the necessity of additional measures, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo only said that he will decide on further measures after assessing the impact of the prolonged state of emergency.

Article 25 of the Constitution in the first paragraph states, “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.” In the second paragraph, it states, “In all spheres of life, the State shall use its endeavors for the promotion and extension of social welfare and security, and of public health.”

“Public health” in the second paragraph includes the mission to control and prevent infectious diseases. This means that to protect people from the novel coronavirus is a constitutional requirement imposed on the state.

The main strategy used to stop the COVID-19 spread is to restrict people’s movements. In order for individuals to abide by the restriction, it is necessary to provide compensation for loss of earnings due to suspension of economic activities.

In this regard, the provision of compensation to cover financial losses is essential to maintain efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection (i.e. restrictions of people’s movements). The use of tax money for this support measure is of the same nature as that for strengthening the medical and PCR testing systems necessary to protect people’s lives and health.

The coronavirus epidemic is affecting all aspects of Japanese society, endangering people’s lives and health, and inflicting a heavy blow on both businesses and households. Under this circumstance, many businesses have no choice but to suspend their operations regardless of whether they are officially requested by authorities to do so. Without continued financial support from the government, many people will be unable to survive economically and Japan’s economy and culture will be critically affected. The provision of financial support by the national government is a constitutional requirement under Article 25.

In addition, Article 29 of the Constitution states, “Private property may be taken for public use upon just compensation therefor” (Paragraph 3). It is plausible to argue that based on this article, business owners can demand a government measure to compensate for corporate losses related to the government’s business suspension request.

The Abe government’s negative stance toward loss-of-income benefits and support for medical institutions is rooted in its long-held “structural reform” policy of defunding medical and nursing-care services and the public pension program in defiance of the spirit of Article 25. Giving top priority to large corporations’ profit-seeking activities, the government has been cutting corporate taxes and their contribution to social welfare costs as well as cutting government spending on social welfare programs. This is why the Abe government is, even in the face of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, so slow in providing financial support to medical facilities and maintains its support for the demands of business circles.

The coronavirus outbreak has also revealed the reality that Japan’s medical system is vulnerable to effectively deal with an emergency. As most medical institutions have been forced to become as lean as possible in normal times with the imposition of austerity measures to maximize business efficiency under the government policy, they do not have spare resources to effectively respond to the COVID-19 epidemic.

The urgent need now is to reaffirm the importance of Article 25 as a guiding principle of the government.
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