Support Fund to Tackle Low Birth Rate: Government Must Not Shy Away From Explaining Burden on Citizens

Public understanding will not deepen if the government continues to stress only immediate benefits and talk as if there will be no greater burden. If the government intends to collect funds from the people for measures to tackle the nation’s low birth rate, it needs to carefully work to build a consensus.

Discussions are getting into full swing about a support fund system that will require the public to help provide money for measures to combat the low birth rate through the framework of public medical insurance. The government will finalize specific policies by the end of this year and submit related bills to the ordinary Diet session next year.

The government has set three years from fiscal 2024 as the period to enhance measures to address the low birth rate. It plans to increase the relevant budget in stages, eventually adding a total of about ¥3 trillion more in fiscal 2027 than the current level. In addition to proceeding with expenditure reforms, the government will cover about ¥1 trillion per year through the support fund system.

Compared to European countries that prioritize family policies, Japan’s child-related budget is at a low level relative to the nation’s gross domestic product. It is reasonable for the government to aim to secure funding and strengthen measures.

Support funds will be collected by adding a surcharge to medical insurance premiums paid by individuals. The amount will be determined based on income and other factors, but is expected to be about ¥500 per person per month. A reduction will be granted to low-income earners.

To secure financial resources even as the government is facing fiscal difficulties, it intends to seek contributions from all generations, from elderly people age 75 or older to the working-age population.

Some members of the public may be dissatisfied with the higher insurance premiums deducted from their salaries and pensions. To combat the difficult issue of the low birth rate, it is the government’s job to seek understanding by telling people that support funds are vital.

However, the government is desperate to dispel the image of an increased burden. It has repeatedly said that the creation of the support fund system will not bring about an additional burden in real terms because expenditure reforms will curb increases in insurance premiums for medical care and nursing care.

To reduce social security expenses, it is inevitable to cut benefits for the elderly and increase their burden. The government’s approach of acting like there will not be an increase in the individual burden may actually make it more difficult to obtain cooperation for measures to combat the low birth rate.

As part of its extraordinary measures to combat the low birth rate, the government has announced the expansion of the child allowance and the provision of ¥100,000 per newborn baby.

While there are no objections to providing more generous financial support to families raising children, will such cash handouts really lead to an increase in the birth rate? The government should explain its specific outlook.

It is also important to further improve nursery schools and childcare leave programs to create an environment that will encourage the younger generations to want to have and raise children.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 27, 2023)