True Reconstruction from Earthquake Disaster Is Building a Welfare State

–People in the affected areas say “No” to the increase of consumption tax–

by Takeda Tsutomu

In the wake of the East Japan Great Earthquake which brought extensive damage, and amidst grave concern of many people on the ongoing dire situation in the affected areas, the government proposed to raise the consumption tax to fund the relief and reconstruction work.
Faced with the outcry, “The government is trying to tax even the earthquake victims!” the government announced on June 30 that it would raise the consumption tax to 10% by the mid-2010s for the sake of “better social security.” (“Draft proposal for comprehensive reform on social security and tax”)
However, given the reality of the victims, it is clear that the consumption tax is not an appropriate source of fund neither for the disaster reconstruction nor for social security.
What follows is a report from Miyagi, affected by the recent disaster.

“Saving on electricity bill by turning off an air-conditioner”
Every Thursday, Saka Sogo Hospital of Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture, sends its hospital staff to temporary compounds in Shiogama and Tagajo cities to hold health consultations, using the compounds’ meeting places.
On July 14, the consultation was held at the temporary housing of Jonan district of Tagajo (54 households), where thirteen people visited. Two doctors and 5 nurses of Saka Sogo Hospital measured their blood pressure and weight and interviewed them on their recent health conditions.
While waiting their turns, the visitors talked with each other on their recent situations. The meeting place had an atmosphere of a waiting room in a clinic. Visitors said with smiles, “Usually we just exchange greetings in the temporary housing community and do not have much conversation.” But their seemingly calm and pleasant conversations included serious problems in the victims’ lives after the disaster.
The most common problem they face now is the anxiety in their financial situation. While the victims were housed at evacuation centers, they did not pay for electricity or water, but now that they live in temporary housings, they have to. One of them said, “I save on my electricity bill by not turning on an air-conditioner or TV.”
Mr. Kamikura Isao who is in charge of arranging visiting activities and works for the secretariat of the Social Security Committee of Saka Sogo Hospital said, “Many people report anxiety about their financial situation. In order to take care of their physical health, we need to help remove such anxiety from them.”
On June 29, an old man was found dead alone in a temporary housing in Iboishi district of Shiogama City. He seemed to have kept himself from using an air-conditioner to cut down on electricity bill, and suffered a deadly heat exhaustion.
When the author asked the visitors about possible increase of consumption tax, they immediately said, “Incredible!” and “That’s the worst thing to do!” They have every reason to be angry with the government forcing all the burdens to the people.

“Life Security” is urgently needed
A symposium with a title, “Prospect of a Welfare State in a Post-3.11 Japan” was held in Tokyo on July 10. It was sponsored by the “Research Group on Welfare State and Basic Law” and the “Study Group for Vision of Welfare State”, the groups of experts to propose a basic law on social security and establishment of a charter on social security in Japan.
Prof. Goto Michio of Tsuru University talked to the audience of about 270 people, “The East Japan Great Earthquake has evidently shown that how little responsibility the Japanese government has taken in terms of securing the life of its people.”
Prof. Goto pointed out that shortly after the earthquake, employment security offices in the affected region were swarmed with the people who had lost their jobs, and so-called disaster-related deaths occurred one after another in evacuation centers. He said, “The plight of the victims are the direct result of the long-time neglect by the government of improving social security measures, such as unemployment allowance, pension and welfare benefits.
He emphasized, “Now is the time for Japan to fundamentally revise its standard of social security, and place the globally-accepted idea of “life security” firmly in the center of its policy.” “The concept of poverty should be broadened into ‘the state of inability to lead a decent life due to a poor social environment and low income,’ and the government should unconditionally guarantee that all its people can enjoy a kind of life above that standard. It is already a norm in developed countries in Europe. We must comprehensively rebuild the social system into one that would support the minimum level of living to people through various measures, including raising minimum wage, unemployment allowance, welfare benefit, health, nursing, childcare and education. This is what Article 25 of the Constitution of Japan calls for.”
Touching on the resources for social security, Prof. Goto further stated, “Global corporations, which have accumulated the wealth of the world, are required to bear appropriate burden…. The social security burden shared by Japanese corporations is a lot smaller than by their counterparts in European countries. They spend too little.” He stressed that if these large companies share the same level of burden of social security cost and pay corporate tax as in Europe, about 27 trillion yen will be raised.

Increasing pressure for a structural reform
In the symposium, Watanabe Osamu, professor emeritus of Hitotsubashi University, spoke on the topic, “Political Situation after 3.11 and Welfare State.”
“By using the great earthquake as leverage, Prime Minister Kan, in response to the ‘Second Emergency Appeal’ issued by the Japan Association of Cooperate Executives on April 6, made his stance of returning to the policy of structural reform more clearly than ever.” In the name of the “reconstruction from the disaster,” the “Appeal” proposed such measures as “resumption of operations of nuclear power plants” or “business entities’ entry into agriculture and fishery through deregulation” as demanded by financial circles.
The “National Review Meeting on Social Security Reform” also proposed to cut down on welfare benefits and more burden on patients to pay medical treatment fee at hospital cashiers. Based on this, on June 30, the government announced its plan to cut back on social security, including the increased burden of patients in paying medical cost and reduced entitlement of public pension, while planning to raise the consumption tax to 10% by the mid-2010s.
Prof. Watanabe asserted, “Now that the structural reform-driven post-disaster reconstruction plan is strongly promoted by the effort of financial circles, it is essential for us to propose our alternatives in countering their moves. We must now put forward an economic and financial planning not driven by the interest of big corporations, and present our ideas for a welfare state based on Article 25 of the Constitution of Japan.”

Consumption tax hike is the worst choice
In the light of the idea of “life security”, which has become a “global standard” in developed countries, and of the ideal set out in Article 25 of the constitution, the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake are left in very harsh conditions. The government should listen to the earnest wishes of the victims, saying, “At least I want to return to my old life before the disaster,” and play its due role. The increase of consumption tax is the worst choice, which would throw the victims, who currently do not have any prospect of recovering the foundation of their lives, into a deeper abyss.
Mr. Kamikura of Saka Sogo Hospital argued, “The fundamental problem is that the government has neglected the need to drastically revise the National Disaster Act, in spite of the national experience of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake.” “The National Disaster Act, which was established in 1947, provides the government’s emergency response during the first 7 days only. It was obvious that the law was incapable of meeting the situation after the recent large-scale disaster” Mr. Kamikura said. Both national and local governments are required to responsibly support the long-term lives of the victims away from home in evacuation and the reconstruction of the communities affected by the disaster.

A path to make Article 25 of Japan’s constitution shine
Prof. Watanabe concluded his remarks in the symposium as in the following: “Just as August 15 (anniversary commemorating the end of WWII), March 11 will long be remembered and revisited by the Japanese people for many years to come. Will the people in the future generation say, ‘With the 3.11 as a turning point, the government revised its policy of structural reform, and a new search for a welfare state began”? It is the responsibility of us survivors to create a movement for this direction, and whether we would succeed or not would depend on our determined efforts.”
Will the reconstruction from the great disaster become a new dawn of Japan? Our struggle to oppose the planned consumption tax hike is also a struggle to build a country where Article 25 will shine, leading to the creation of a new welfare state.
To achieve a true reconstruction from the earthquake disaster, we must enhance people’s movement, in which we seek better social security system while constantly presenting the plight of the people before the government, and achieve a state, which will guarantee life security as the right of the people.