Childcare Legislation: Discuss Measures to Remedy Japan’s Low Birth Rate

It is crucial that the ruling and opposition parties share a sense of crisis about the seriousness of the nation’s population decline and discuss effective countermeasures. The government should change its tactic of explaining the matter as if there would be no additional burden on the people and sincerely seek their understanding.

The House of Representatives has begun deliberations on amending legislation, such as the Child and Childcare Support Law. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said: “The birth rate is in a critical condition. The period until we get into the 2030s is the last chance to see if we can reverse the trend of the declining birth rate.”

If the birth rate continues to drop, Japan’s total population is expected to fall to 70% of its current level by 2070, with the elderly accounting for nearly 40% of the total population.

The declining population will not only reduce the nation’s strength, but also will aggravate a shortage of workers in nursing care and other sectors. The entire nation needs to implement measures to cope with this situation without turning a blind eye to the harsh reality.

The amendment is intended mainly for implementing measures to provide cash benefits, such as by eliminating income limits for child allowances. To secure funding for these measures, the amendment also includes a measure to establish a system to collect “support funds” from people and companies by increasing public medical insurance premiums.

With the difficulty of gaining public understanding for raising the consumption tax and other taxes, the government aims to seek contributions from a wide range of generations, including the elderly, by using the social insurance program, in which all of the people are policy holders.

According to government estimates, the average monthly burden of the support funds would be ¥850 per insured person in major companies’ health insurance associations. The burden would be ¥700 per person in the Japan Health Insurance Association, which has small and midsize companies as its members. The burden would vary in practice depending on income, with those with high incomes paying more than ¥1,000 per month.

The government initially explained that the monthly burden would be about ¥500 per insured person. Although this explanation was based on rough estimates, the higher burden is likely to provoke a backlash.

The problem is that the prime minister has explained that there would be no substantial additional burden.

Kishida seems to mean that if reforms in social security spending and wage increases proceed, the increased burden will be offset as a result. However, it has not been decided how social security spending will be reduced. The benefits of higher wages will also not necessarily be passed on to all workers.

The opposition parties have criticized Kishida’s explanation as “sophistry and deception” and stressed that the burden will effectively increase. They may view this as a good opportunity to attack the Kishida administration.

It is a problem if the focus is only on the burden on the public and no consideration is given to key measures to combat the low birth rate.

To raise the birth rate, it is important to put forth effective measures for younger generations who are likely to get married and have children in the future. All political parties must exercise their wisdom in discussing this matter.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 7, 2024)