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2009年8月21日 (金)

少子化対策 「手当」「無償化」で済むのか

The Yomiuri Shimbun(Aug. 21, 2009)
Parties must grapple with declining birthrate
少子化対策 「手当」「無償化」で済むのか(8月21日付・読売社説)

A report compiled by a government advisory panel on social security issues states, "The declining birthrate is the biggest challenge confronting Japan."
Meanwhile, a report released by a different government advisory panel studying strategies to realize a "secure" society notes, "The continuously declining birthrate is 'a quietly advancing emergency.'"

The ruling parties and, by the same token, the opposition parties would be foolish to challenge these views.

The nation's total fertility rate--the estimated number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime--has improved slightly to 1.37. However, this is still a very low figure, and the number of children in the country continues to decrease each year.


Financial incentives

It was inevitable that the political parties would put expanded support measures for child-rearing families at the heart of their policy pledges for the upcoming House of Representatives election.

In particular, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan has proposed the creation of a child allowance scheme that would provide 26,000 yen per month for each child up to middle school age.

We applaud the party for proposing such a bold plan.

However, it is crucially important to find fiscal resources to fund this idea.

Under the envisaged plan, the child allowance would be provided across-the-board, regardless of family income levels, and could end up totaling about 5.3 trillion yen.

The DPJ intends to raise part of the funds through such measures as scrapping tax deductions for spouses. However, this would still leave a shortfall of about 3 trillion yen, which the party insists could be covered by reviewing the state budget, among other measures.

With the abolition of the spouse deduction, tax burdens would be heavier for some households, such as those without children or those that contain women who already have raised children. Conversely, households with children--even high-income homes--would be entitled to the child allowance.

The DPJ argues that child-rearing should be supported by society as a whole and that the financial burden should be shared. A considerable number of people, however, have voiced objections to the proposed measures.

In an apparent bid to counter the DPJ's proposals, the Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner, New Komeito, have posited that preschool education be free.

The parties have yet to work out the details of the plan, such as whether unauthorized day care centers should fall within the remit of the scheme. Even if only kindergartens and authorized day care centers were covered, it would still cost about 800 billion yen. As the consumption tax rate is unlikely to be raised anytime soon, no permanent revenue source has been identified to fund this plan.


Additional measures

The child allowance scheme and the provision of free preschool education--moves apparently aimed at wooing voters--should not be relied upon too heavily as the main measures for coping with the declining birthrate.

In addition to the financial support for households, improved administrative services, such as more day care centers, also should be considered as priorities for child-raising families.

Regardless of which party takes up the reins of government following the general election, the new administration will have to focus on fulfilling the vote-garnering financial support measures pledged during the election battle. We think the ruling and opposition parties should first and foremost strive during the election campaign to offer grander visions for tackling the declining birthrate.

Voters, for their part, must carefully consider which party has the clearest concept for expanding the support measures, and sourcing and allocating the necessary financial resources.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 21, 2009)
(2009年8月21日01時35分  読売新聞)


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