Measures against Low Birth Rate: Honestly Discuss Financial Burden on The Public

If Japan’s low birth rate is not remedied, economic activities will stagnate and it will become difficult to maintain welfare and other services. The government needs to squarely explain the seriousness of this situation and seek the public’s understanding of the increased financial burden.

The government has decided on a package of bills to revise the law on support for children and child-rearing and other legislation. The main pillar of the amendment is the expansion of the child allowance and childcare leave benefits.

The income limit for the child allowance will be abolished, and eligibility for the allowance will be extended from the current system that covers newborn babies to junior high school students, to also include high school students.

In addition, the introduction of a system to provide ¥100,000 worth of benefits to pregnant women and another that allows the use of daycare facilities on an hourly basis for any preschool child up to 2 years old were proposed.

It is often pointed out that one of the main reasons for the low birth rate is that younger generations are hesitant to get married or have children because of the high cost of child-rearing. The government is probably aware of this problem and has emphasized the importance of financial support.

However, the measures proposed in the bills are conspicuously aimed at households that already have children, and lack the power to encourage young people to get married and have children. It is essential for the government to consider more effective measures through Diet deliberations.

Cooperation from businesses will also be indispensable in overcoming the national crisis of the low birth rate. It is hoped that they will actively promote efforts to increase the incomes of younger generations, through such measures as raising starting salaries, and move nonregular workers onto regular contracts.

The government intends to secure ¥3.6 trillion annually by fiscal 2028 as a budget for measures to deal with the low birth rate. Of that, ¥2.6 trillion will be covered by such methods as reducing social security expenditure, and the remaining ¥1 trillion will be covered by a support fund system that will be collected from the public and businesses through increases to medical insurance premiums.

The average monthly burden of the support funds will be less than ¥500 per capita. It can be said that the aim for society as a whole to share the costs is reasonable in order to nurture the children who will be responsible for the future.

What is difficult to understand is Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s explanation. He has repeatedly stated that, even if the support funds are collected, “there would be no real burden on the public due to spending reforms and wage increases.”

Kishida may have intended to say that, if spending reforms of the social security system proceed, the burden of social insurance premiums on the people will be reduced, and if substantial wage increases are realized, the burden will be offset.

However, the support funds are actually deducted from wages or pension benefits. If the reduction in spending for social security purposes is promoted, medical and nursing care services could decline.

It is no wonder that from the public’s point of view, Kishida’s explanation sounds as if he is trying to gloss over the financial burden. It would be reasonable for Kishida to honestly explain the nature of the burden and the policy effects to be gained from it.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2024)