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2009年8月25日 (火)

09総選挙 生活保障―重層的に支える制度へ

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24(IHT/Asahi: August 25,2009)
EDITORIAL: Livelihood security
09総選挙 生活保障―重層的に支える制度へ

Fixing the troubled social security system and rebuilding the weakened social safety net have emerged as major topics on the campaign trail.

What is notable is that there have been policy proposals that go beyond the traditional framework of social security centering on the pension, health-care and nursing-care programs and which address challenges in related areas such as employment and education.

It is important to combine these proposals in an organized way into a multilevel approach to improve the economic viability of households. It is clearly time to promote efforts to develop a comprehensive policy agenda to achieve what can be called "livelihood security."

In the area of employment, calls are growing within both the ruling and opposition camps for institutionalizing an emergency program to subsidize living expenses for people undergoing job training. There can be no livelihood security without job stability. Programs to support people seeking job opportunities should be enhanced.

In the area of education, the parties have made a variety of proposals in their election manifestoes, such as making public senior high schools practically tuition-free and the creation of a grant scholarship program. Making education available to anybody is essential for reversing the trend toward increasing poverty and economic inequality.

Equally important is the need to establish an effective system to provide housing security. It is still fresh in our memory that many temporary workers were turfed out of their homes as companies slashed jobs in response to the recession. It may be time to consider housing allowances as part of overall public benefits.

In addition, more policy efforts should be devoted to people trying to gain financial independence. A system for providing such multilevel livelihood support would help curb growth in overall social costs.

The government's employment policy should not be confined to providing income compensation for people who have lost their jobs. The government should also bolster programs to help jobless people find new jobs and maintain their living standard. This could be done by providing support for job training and skills development so these people can readily find employment.

Critics say the public livelihood aid program, a symbol of the social safety net, is not really helping poor people of working age, like the so-called working poor, to gain financial independence. They point out that elderly households account for nearly half of all households on welfare.

It could be too late to try to help people after they fall into financial difficulties. A wider range of programs should be readily available at earlier stages. And careful livelihood support by expert counselors should be incorporated into these programs to help people stay financially independent.

To fine-tune welfare services, it would help if local governments, which generally maintain close ties with residents, were able to play the leading role in providing services tailored to local conditions and needs. That would entail reconsidering the division of roles between the central and local governments by transferring related powers and revenue sources to local governments.

Providers of such services may not necessarily be the central or local governments. The government should try to increase the number of providers outside the public sector, such as private-sector nonprofit organizations.

The challenge is how to go beyond simply repairing the frayed social security system and reshape it to meet the demands of the times so as to create a society where people support each other with a sense of solidarity.

All the political parties owe the public detailed explanations about their visions for the future of livelihood security.


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