Strengthen Support for Most Effective Measures to Help Young People

A lineup of measures to tackle the difficult challenge of the chronically low birth rate has been presented. The government must assess the effectiveness of the various steps and strengthen support for young people.

The government has unveiled a draft outlining measures to address the low birth rate, which it regards as its highest priority. It plans to scrutinize the draft and include a comprehensive overview in its Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform, a package of measures to be approved in June.

In 2022, the number of births in Japan fell below 800,000 for the first time since World War II. The low birth rate could lead to a decrease in the labor force and reduce the strength of the nation. Measures need to be implemented steadily, addressing structural problems in society that have made it difficult for people to have children.

The draft states, “The next six to seven years will be the last chance to reverse the trend of the declining birth rate.” This is because the nation will see the number of women of childbearing age drop rapidly in the 2030s and later. In light of this, the government has stressed its intention to intensively implement measures over the three years from fiscal 2024.

The draft places a particular focus on strengthening economic support for child-rearing households.

Specifically, the draft includes plans to provide an allowance to all children, scrapping the cap on parents’ income. The draft also calls for considering expanding the scope of eligibility for receiving the allowance from the current junior high school age to high school students and raising the allowance for households with multiple children.

It further includes plans to allow childbirth expenses to be covered by public medical insurance and make school lunches free.

Many people feel that childcare and education cost too much. The government’s aim to financially support households with children is understandable, but such support alone is not sufficient to dispel concerns over the burden of raising children.

The biggest factor behind the low birth rate is the growing number of unmarried people, a phenomenon prompted by economic concerns. It is important to make the lives of young people stable by helping companies increase full-time employment and raise wages.

It is hoped that a change in the mindset of society and companies will be also promoted. The draft has set a goal of lifting the percentage of male employees taking parental leave to 85% by 2030.

If the burden of child-rearing remains heavily on women, it is no wonder that young women hesitate to give birth, despite an increase in the number of dual-income families. It is crucial to create an environment in which married couples can raise children together.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to double spending for child-related measures in the future, but the draft does not specify financial resources for the measures.

Several trillion yen will be needed to implement the various initiatives. Within the government, tax hikes and increases in social insurance premiums have reportedly been on the agenda for consideration to fund the measures.

Without securing financial resources, these support measures will end up being nothing more than pie in the sky. How will the burden be shared? The government should spark national discussions by squarely calling on the public to face this question.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 2, 2023)