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2009年8月 8日 (土)

社説:子育て支援 これが審判を左右する

(Mainichi Japan) August 8, 2009
Political parties try to appeal to voters through child-support policies
社説:子育て支援 これが審判を左右する

The highlight of the Democratic Party of Japan's (DPJ) election manifesto is the 26,000-yen monthly allowance to be given per child to households until the child graduates from junior high school. It is approximately five times the amount currently provided by the government, and will cost 5.3 trillion yen a year.

The DPJ proposes that spousal deductions and dependent deductions for income tax be eliminated to generate the necessary funds. This will result in a 511,000 yen increase in revenue for a family with an annual income of 3 million yen and two children, while a family with no children will receive 19,000 yen less than it does now. An additional characteristic of the policy is that, like in various European nations, the allowance is not income-tested.

While there are criticisms that the proposal lacks a reliable source of funds and is merely a cash handout program, gross childcare benefits under the current policy are a mere 0.2 percent of the nation's GDP, a whole digit less than those of major European nations. Childcare allowances plus childbirth and child rearing expenses comprise about 3 percent of the GDP in Britain, France and Sweden, while the figure is 0.75 percent in Japan. The DPJ proposal would finally bring Japan up to the standards already set by other countries.

Existing policy provides financial support in the form of childcare allowances to households with children until they graduate from elementary school, and also offers aid to single-mother households and households with children who have disabilities. The policy was meant to support children whose families had difficulty caring for them on their own, and childcare allowances were initially begun as support for poor households with many children.

The system has been revised several times, but the government has generally worked around its budgetary constraints by shifting funds around -- putting a limit on children's ages when it broadened the range of eligible children, and abolishing additional tax exemptions for dependents to secure more funds when the age limit for eligible children's ages was extended.

In addition to its promise to make preschool free in three years, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has pledged to focus on improving childcare services and to make shorter working hours compulsory for families raising children. Komeito has also announced its plans for free preschool education and the fundamental expansion of the childcare allowance.

The basic principle underlying Japan's traditional approach to child rearing policies is the notion that children be brought up by their own families. In contrast to the ruling parties, who, even as they try to step out of that framework are promoting realistic improvement measures, the DPJ's intention appears to be an ideological shift toward child rearing as a society-wide effort.

It goes without saying that the demise of large families and the rise in two-career and single parent households has been a contributing factor to such trends. Furthermore, such issues as pensions, medical services, and elderly nursing care have the potential to change their course depending on how the next generation chooses to handle them. In other words, child rearing comprises the foundations for the continuous running of a nation, and as such, it is significant that the DPJ counts its childcare policies among the most important in an election that will determine whether it takes over the government.

Naturally, comprehensive measures addressing such issues as balance between career and child rearing and the expansion of childcare services are necessary for the public to be able to raise children without anxiety. However, not many innovative ideas have been brought up on this front. Cash handouts are probably not enough for the idea that "children are a shared fortune" and calls for "investment in the next generation" to gain wide support as policy.

毎日新聞 2009年8月2日 0時03分


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