June 3, 2023 at 15:47 JST
A newborn (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
The total fertility rate, or average number of children a woman is expected to give birth to in her lifetime, fell to a record-tying low of 1.26 in 2022.
The declining birthrate also continues to be an issue of grave concern.
Yet, the government seemingly lacks a sense of crisis.
We cannot help but doubt how seriously the government is taking the issue after reading a draft of the just released Children’s Future Strategy Policy.
The fertility rate has fallen for seven consecutive years.
Both the birthrate and the number of births are expected to fall further this year, according to future population projections published recently. They referred to prioritizing childbearing and child-rearing policies that are embraced by society as a whole.
The draft details better child support allowances and improved child-rearing services, among other measures.
The day before the draft was released, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida gave instructions for an additional 500 billion yen ($3.6 billion) to be attached to the initial budget of 3 trillion yen to tackle the issue head-on over the three years starting from fiscal 2024.
Although the government said it plans to cut spending on social welfare and establish a “support fund system” to implement the measures, it failed to present scale or framework and other specifics.
The government pledged to continue discussions until the end of the year and said it is considering issuing “bridge bonds” as a temporary step to raise the necessary funds before it can secure funding sources by fiscal 2028.
This is a far cry from the stable revenue sources that Kishida vowed to include in the “Basic Policies for Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform” for 2023 to be published later this month.
It is dishonest for the administration to postpone debate so easily.
Until recently, government officials had apparently toyed with scraping up around 1 trillion yen from spending cuts and support funds, respectively.
The feasibility of the policies will be inevitably be questioned if the government jumps the gun when it is unable even to provide a breakdown and remains ambiguous about funding sources.
The draft is also sprinkled with signs of its reluctance to avoid discussions on imposing a “burden” on the public.
One typical instance is how the government states at the forefront that it plans to pare down social security spending to ensure there will be practically no additional burden under the support fund system.
But the expected reductions in health care and nursing care benefits, as well as revisions to out-of-pocket payments, will inevitably increase the burden on households. Elderly and other family members will also have to bear the burden.
The government should refrain from making intentionally misleading comments as if to say it will enrich benefits without adding to burdens.
The same goes for its intention not to consider an additional tax hike.
When members of the government advisory council concerned also call for discussions on tax proposals, why does Kishida stubbornly refuse to comply?
The administration may push for debate on how society as a whole should support parenting without offering multiple options, but it doesn’t sound convincing.
When thinking about a reason behind the government’s stance, it is easy to imagine that it gave consideration to the ruling camp’s eagerness to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.
But if the government decides to hold an election, it will be unacceptable for candidates to promote only increased benefits during the campaign.
It is only natural to present concrete plans for the funding sources to seek a popular mandate.
The government must not toy with its “different dimension” measures to stem the fallen birthrate for political reasons.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 3
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