Expedite measures to address population decline

With the population of young people in their marriage and childbearing years declining, the birth rate is falling faster than expected. Society as a whole should establish a system to support future generations.

A government council tasked with building a social security system for all generations has compiled a report and submitted it to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The council was established last November, and experts have been discussing the direction of the relevant reforms.

The declining birth rate was viewed as “a problem that will affect the very survival of the nation” in the report, which stressed that “the trend of the declining population must be changed by implementing bold measures.”

If the population continues to decline, economic activity will contract, and society will lose its vitality. It is appropriate that the council urged the administration to put measures to tackle the declining birth rate high on the agenda.

As a specific measure, the report proposed that the lump-sum childbirth and child-rearing benefit, which is currently ¥420,000 per child, be increased to ¥500,000.

The cost of childbirth has been rising year by year, with the national average being ¥470,000. It is important to ease the financial burden on young people.

The report proposed that the lump-sum benefit be financed not only by each health insurance association but also by the health care system for elderly people age 75 and older.

Sharing the burden among all generations for the sake of the children who will carry the future is an understandable idea.

The council also stressed the need for support for children ages 0 to 2, which is currently insufficient.

As part of a second supplementary budget for this fiscal year, the government has decided to provide coupons worth ¥100,000 for each newborn. The coupon is intended to be used mainly for purchasing child-rearing supplies, and the government is considering making it permanent.

The report also called for benefits for freelancers and self-employed persons raising children, as well as the expansion of child allowances.

The biggest challenge is securing financial resources. Family-related expenditures in Japan are low compared to Europe. The prime minister has advocated doubling the budget for children, but has postponed discussions until the next fiscal year and beyond.

Even if an array of measures for child-rearing support is laid out, without financial backing it will end up being nothing more than a pipe dream. The government must deepen the discussion, including increasing the burden on the people.

With the shift to nuclear families, many people are anxious about raising children for the first time. It is also essential to establish a system that makes it easier for pregnant women and mothers to consult with public health nurses and others in their immediate surroundings.

The council has viewed housing policy as an issue for social security as a whole. While it aims to provide a foundation for the elderly to live free from anxiety, securing housing is also a major issue for the child-rearing generation.

The central and local governments need to strengthen their efforts to make effective use of vacant houses for young people.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 19, 2022)