Photo/Illutration Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike delivers her New Year’s speech at the metropolitan government’s office on Jan. 4. (Shin Kasahara)

All children living in the capital will receive 5,000 yen ($38) a month under Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s “Children First” policy for 2023, she announced on Jan. 4.

In an attempt to halt the declining birthrate, the plan will provide the monthly subsidy to children 18 or younger, regardless of their household income, starting from fiscal 2023.

About 1.93 million children are currently eligible for the money.

The 5,000-yen figure is based on the difference between average monthly education expenses in Tokyo and the rest of the nation, according to a senior metropolitan government official.

The central government’s child subsidies program has provided 15,000 yen per month to children under 3 years old and 10,000 yen per month to children from 3 to junior high school age.

But in 2022, the central government decided that households with an annual income of 12 million yen or more were ineligible for the payments.

During his New Year’s news conference on Jan. 4, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the central government will “take other-dimensional countermeasures against the falling birthrate.”

But Koike said during her New Year’s speech to metropolitan government employees that the central government’s measures will be insufficient, if not fruitless.

She noted that the estimated number of births in 2022 was expected to dip below 800,000 for the first time and 11 years earlier than expected.

“The population issue is a question that has bearings on the fundamental character of nation-building,” Koike said. “But there is no momentum in the central government’s budget for next fiscal year.”

She said Tokyo needs to set an example for the central government.

Asked why there will be no income limit for the subsidies, Koike said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun: “Whether the income level is high or low, it doesn’t mean anything to children. I want children to be equally eligible.

The governor said her foremost concern is to create a “children first” society.

However, some within the metropolitan government have already criticized the plan.

“Once we start this type of subsidy, it will be difficult to end it,” a metropolitan official said.

The total amount of subsidies is expected to be around 120 billion yen annually. The metropolitan government’s general account in its initial budget for fiscal 2022 was 7.8 trillion yen.

Koike said the subsidies will come from the several hundreds of billions of yen saved annually through administrative reforms introduced since she became governor.

The latest estimate for births shows the decline “has been accelerated in a considerable way,” and it “will significantly change the design of the entire Japanese society,” Koike said.

“There are many women who say, ‘I want to work’ and ‘I want to have another child.’ To send a shout-out to such women, we need a seamless measure and not a one-shot attempt,” she said in the interview.

Asked about her pessimism concerning the Kishida administration’s pledge to halt the declining birthrate, Koike said the main problem is with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Koike used to be an LDP member and had chaired the party’s General Council.

Koike said about that stage of her career, “I advanced many discussions on policies related to women, but everything has remained unchanged for a long time.”

She said she doubts “if the LDP has ever really been willing to tackle the issue of the declining birthrate and the issue of increasing women’s participation (in the work force), no matter who runs the administration.”

She said the latest estimate on births is “telling.”

Yoko Suzuki, a chief researcher at Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co., said the metropolitan government’s plan is good because it creates a permanent system.

But Suzuki said that just handing out money is not enough to prompt people to have more children.

“In order to motivate people to raise children, monetary support itself is hardly enough,” she said. “Expanding various types of child care services and establishing a system to support parents who feel isolated are also necessary.”

(This article was compiled from reports by Shin Kasahara, Yusuke Nagano and Satoshi Kobayashi.)