Japanese Panel Starts Debate on Low Birthrate

Tokyo, April 7 (Jiji Press)—A panel of officials and experts set up by the Japanese government to discuss measures to address the country’s falling birthrate started deliberations on Friday.

“We’ll promote child and child-rearing policies boldly and strongly to create a society in which every person who wishes to have a child can do so and raise children without stress,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who chairs the panel, told the inaugural meeting.

The panel’s discussions are expected to focus on how to finance measures spelled out in a draft package announced by the government late last month. Proposals include raising social insurance premiums.

The government and ruling bloc are cautious about raising taxes and issuing bonds to secure the necessary funds. Businesses are concerned about higher social insurance premiums.

The government aims to outline a plan to double its budget for child-related measures by June.

The panel’s 29 members include the prime minister, related ministers, Masakazu Tokura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, Tomoko Yoshino, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Atsushi Seike, president of the Japanese Red Cross Society, and Suntory Holdings Ltd. President Takeshi Niinami.

The draft package includes scrapping the income cap for child benefits, extending the period of eligibility for benefits and providing housing support to child-rearing households. Several trillion yen is believed to be needed to finance those measures.

Several experts expressed opposition to scrapping the income cap for child benefits. Niinami told reporters after the meeting that he doubted whether child benefits “are really necessary for high-income earners.”

Those experts said money should be allocated to some other policies, according to the secretariat of the panel.