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2009年6月18日 (木)


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 17(IHT/Asahi: June 18,2009)
EDITORIAL: Social security reforms

A government advisory council on social security has called for greater support to younger generations, especially families with small children and the young "working poor."

In its report submitted to Prime Minister Taro Aso on Monday, the expert panel on building a society where people can feel a sense of security made 10 policy proposals the government should tackle immediately.
The panel urged the government to lower the tax burden on low-income earners and provide welfare benefits where necessary, offer job-training programs combined with livelihood support and increase scholarship benefits for needy students to supplement the current public student loan program.

Earlier, the national council on social security had called for enhancing the nation's social security system, saying the social safety net is showing signs of fraying.

The new report went further and proposed not just the reinforcement of the system but also a new direction for the social security policy, which has been focused on the well-being of senior citizens.

The government plans to incorporate the new recommendations into the economic and fiscal reform guidelines to be announced shortly.

It is glaringly obvious that the government needs to go all out to tackle such serious problems as widening income gaps, increasing poverty and low fertility. The government has been far too slow in responding to these issues.

One big worry is that the government has yet to give the public any idea about how it would finance all these measures.

The consumption tax rate must be raised by 3.3 to 3.5 percentage points by 2015 just to finance proposals to bolster the health-care and pension programs included in the "medium-term program" for tax and social security reforms adopted by the government late last year, according to its estimate.

Funding all the proposals on the table, including the ones cited as urgent challenges in the new report, would require a sizable amount of new government money.

Japanese voters remain unsure about how to respond to these seemingly fine proposals since their price tags are unclear.

The government debt has grown further due to new expenditures to deal with the economic crisis and falling tax revenues.

According to an estimate published recently by the Cabinet Office, the consumption tax rate must be raised by about 7 percentage points in the near future, even if the target year for achieving fiscal soundness is pushed back. And this estimate is based on the assumption that growth of social security spending due to the aging of the population will be curbed for the time being.

Many people must be concerned that much of the new money from the tax hike would be used to plug the fiscal hole, with little left for measures to expand social security.

If Aso seeks a fresh public mandate to govern the nation, he needs to be straightforward with Japanese voters about his plan to finance the social security overhaul. He should make clear how much money would be needed to strengthen social security under his vision, how much taxpayers would have to pay and how the money would be actually spent.

Opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), which wants the public to vote it into power in the next election, has pledged to keep the consumption tax rate unchanged for at least four years. The party has said it would save 20 trillion yen through the elimination of wasteful expenditures and other spending reforms and use the money to bolster welfare and education programs.

We hope to hear a convincing explanation from Minshuto on how this would be possible.

What kind of visions do the ruling and opposition parties have about the benefits and burdens their social security reform plans would produce? The upcoming Lower House election will shape up as a real opportunity for voters to choose a reliable government only if both sides offer a clear answer to this question in their election manifestoes.


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« 党首討論 首相の「郵政」弁明は苦しい | トップページ | 平成の大合併―現実を見据え次に進もう »