Japan Measures to Address Low Birthrate Colored by ‘Pork Barreling’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Election candidates and others wave to voters in Osaka on Thursday.

Draft measures drawn up by the government to deal with the nation’s declining birthrate have been criticized by opposition parties, with one leading politician referring to the plans as “pork-barreling” plans. The measures, drafted with an eye on upcoming nationwide local elections and five by-elections for both houses of the Diet, were released Friday.

The proposals include a string of potentially budget-guzzling measures, such as the expansion of child allowance, but it is unclear to what extent the plans will be implemented or where the funding would come from.

On Friday evening, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with Koichi Hagiuda — chair of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council — at the Prime Minister’s Office and instructed him to accelerate discussions within the party to realize the steps, which include augmenting child allowance, support for childbirth expenses, and housing assistance.

Speaking at a press conference, Hiroshige Seko, secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors, said, “It’s important to carry out the measures in a comprehensive and balanced manner, focusing on the main items.”

The LDP’s leadership is thought to have had a strong hand in drafting the proposals. Since the start of the year, LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi has been calling for the removal of parental income limits with regard to receiving child allowance and the provision of free school lunches for students at elementary and junior high schools.

However, the opposition parties have long advocated both these policies, and the government’s adoption of such issues is likely an attempt to neutralize their potency in the upcoming elections.

Komeito is among those to have called for child allowance to be expanded. “Everything we’ve been advocating will be included in the government’s policies,” said party head Natsuo Yamaguchi during a speech in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture on Friday.

It is estimated that up to ¥8 trillion would be required to implement all the proposed measures. However, the removal of child allowance-related income restrictions and the provision of free school lunches are seen as high hurdles with regard to funding. “Even though the measures appear in the draft proposal, it doesn’t follow they’ll become a reality,” a senior government official said.

At a press conference on Friday, Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, touched upon on the government’s measures to cope with the declining birthrate, saying: “Financial figures and sources aren’t specified [in the draft proposals]. People are being shown a menu, but there’s no guarantee that actual meals will be served.”

Meanwhile, Nobuyuki Baba, leader of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), pointed out at a Tuesday press conference, “A higher-than-necessary budget has already been appropriated; it’s nothing more than pork barreling.”