The government has decided on an outline of policy proposals to tackle issues concerning the aging of Japanese society that calls for considering allowing elderly people to delay receiving their national pensions until age 71 or older.

Currently, the official pension age is 65.

The monthly pension for those who opt for the delayed payment would be raised accordingly.

The idea is that people aged 65 or older should be given opportunities to work as long as they can, if they wish to, and keep supporting the social security system instead of being treated equally as aged retirees relying on their pensions.

To be sure, elderly people today are widely different in terms of their physical and mental fitness and other factors.

The envisioned new system would be a viable option for old people who are actively working and earning a certain level of income.

What should not be forgotten, however, is the fact that there are many other problems with the current public pension program.

Even now, people are allowed to delay receiving their pensions up until age 70 for an increase in monthly benefits by up to about 40 percent. But only about 1 percent of people eligible for pensions choose this option.

The policy outline also suggests enhancing support to help elderly workers find jobs and start businesses.

But only a limited number of senior citizens will be able to earn enough money to live without relying on their pensions.

If the government wants to increase the number of people working in old age, it should first change the employee pension rule that cuts or halts pensions for workers who are eligible for pension benefits but still earn a certain level of salary.

Many aged workers are hired on a non-regular basis. It is also necessary to expand the scope of workers eligible for the employee pension program to bolster the pension benefits of non-regular workers.

The government stresses that the proposal to raise the optional pension age is aimed at expanding the choice for individual pensioners.

But many suspect that this is actually a first step toward raising the official pension age sometime in the future.

That’s because of widespread public anxiety about the long-term financial sustainability of the pension program.

In 2004, the government introduced a system of automatic adjustment of benefits based on macroeconomic indexation, in which pension payouts will be curbed over time according to the aging of the population amid low birthrates.

But the system has been activated only once so far in fiscal 2015 because there are certain conditions for setting it into motion, including price trends.

A new plan will be adopted in the next fiscal year that allows estimated adjustments that are not implemented to be carried over to later years.

Both macroeconomic indexation and raising the pension age are means to curb pension payouts.

While the former imposes the burden on pensioners as well as the working population, however, the latter only affects generations who have yet to start receiving benefits.

To ensure that the burden will be widely shared across generations, the government should first take steps to ensure that the macroeconomic indexation system will work properly to serve its purposes.

At the same time, sufficient consideration should be given to the impact of the reform on low-income families that will suffer the most from cuts in pension benefits.

It is vital for the government to come up with measures to prevent such families from becoming destitute, including welfare support.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 18