Devise various support measures to resolve economic concerns

The government needs to expedite the expansion of financial support to prevent people from hesitating to have a child due to economic concerns.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced an increase in the lump-sum childbirth and child-rearing handout at a press conference held after the Diet session ended. Currently, ¥420,000 per child is paid mainly by health insurance associations. The government plans to increase this amount from next fiscal year.

The number of babies born in Japan was just over 810,000 last year, hitting a record low. The figure represents a sharp decrease of nearly 30,000 babies from the previous year. It is believed to be partly because more people refrained from having a child during the novel coronavirus pandemic. With declining incomes, many people must have been concerned about the costs of childbirth and child-rearing.

The average cost of childbirth has been rising year by year, and even at public hospitals, it costs about ¥510,000 on average — more than the amount currently provided in the lump-sum handout. It is understandable that the government intends to support the child-rearing generation.

However, the amount of the lump-sum handout has been raised repeatedly in the past. It is currently ¥120,000 higher than what was offered in 2006.

The costs of childbirth are not covered by the public health insurance system because having a baby cannot be called an illness, and medical institutions have the freedom to set charges. As a result, even though the amount of the lump-sum handout was increased, the cost of childbirth rose further, creating a situation that has been criticized as a cat-and-mouse game.

The unclear breakdown of the costs of childbirth is also a problem. There are said to be cases in which fees for a dinner to celebrate the birth and a post-baby massage session are also included. These fees have pushed up the overall costs, making it difficult to figure out how much it actually costs to have a child.

The costs of childbirth vary not only among hospitals but also among regions. There is a ¥200,000 gap between the average costs in Tokyo and Tottori Prefecture, and soaring expenses are conspicuous in urban areas.

A research team of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is searching for the cause of rising expenses and regional disparities to analyze the breakdown of the costs and the minimum amount required. The government should clarify the actual costs of childbirth.

In addition to increasing the amount of lump-sum payments, there are other options for expanding support for childbirth expenses, such as having them covered by insurance. The government should consider a system in which parents would not have to pay for the basic cost of childbirth.

Also, by providing support all the way from when pregnancy is confirmed to postpartum care, it should be able to create an environment for people to have a child free from anxiety. It is hoped that the government will steadfastly deepen discussions to reach a conclusion at an early date.

According to the Cabinet Office, more than 60% of people surveyed found Japan a difficult place to have and raise children. Delivering a baby is only the beginning of child-rearing. It is the government’s responsibility to modify the current situation where it costs too much to raise and educate children, and to improve child-rearing policies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 27, 2022)