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2015年1月 8日 (木)

社会保障改革 少子化の克服へ総力で挑もう

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tackle and overcome low birthrate through measures across society
社会保障改革 少子化の克服へ総力で挑もう


The low birthrate is shaking the future foundation of Japan. It will not only jeopardize the stability of the country’s social security system, but also cause a decline in socioeconomic vitality.

We should make this year the starting point for our society to do everything in our power to take drastic measures to tackle and overcome the low birthrate.

After peaking in 2008, the nation’s total population has declined and now stands at about 127 million. Should the birthrate remain at the current level, the total population is expected to fall to 87 million in 2060. Elderly people aged 65 or older are projected to account for as much as 40 percent of the total population by then.

Expand child care services

While social security spending, such as medical and nursing care service expenses, is ballooning in line with the super-graying society, the number of those who would support the social security system is on the decline, due to the low birthrate. If the matter is left uncorrected, it is certain that the system will get bogged down sooner or later.

Late last year, the government set a national target of securing a “total population of 100 million in 2060.”

The target is based on the assumption that the total fertility rate — the average number of children who will be born to one woman over her lifetime — would be raised from the current 1.43 to 2.07 in 2040. This is the level that would enable the nation to sustain population levels.

The number of children considered ideal for a married couple is said to be 2.4 on average. The unmarried rate is rising but, in fact, nearly 90 percent of unmarried young people want to get married.

The low birthrate shows that many people are giving up on getting married or have children due to economic and other reasons.

If young people are provided with an environment in which they can get married and have children as they wish, it will never be impossible for the nation to achieve it’s target.

In doing so, it is important for women to be able to have a baby with a sense of reassurance, without being pressed to choose between their career or child-rearing. To lessen their concern or sense of strain over child-rearing, it is also desirable to build a system to offer comprehensive advice and support for women from pregnancy onward.

The highest priority should be given to the improvement of child care services.

From April, the government will start a new system to support parents and child rearing — the system intended to bring to zero the number of children on waiting lists for admission to child care centers.

Under the system, the government will increase the number of child care facilities. Additional annual expenses totaling more than ¥1 trillion will be needed in fiscal 2017, making it a big challenge to secure a source of revenue.

Concerns of nonregular staff

Also needed are changes in the mind-set of business corporations and men. While the number of dual-earner households is increasing, it would be difficult to raise the birthrate as long as the tasks of child-rearing and household chores are left entirely on working women.

There is a report that the percentage of women having their second or further children would rise if their husbands are proactively involved in child-rearing.

It is deemed essential to review the way people work, including correcting long working hours, in tandem with the support for balancing work and family.

A major factor behind the low birthrate is an increase in the number of nonregular workers, according to experts. Their status is marked by such unfavorable conditions as low wages, lack of job security and scant opportunities for promotion or pay hikes. Another indicator in this respect is the percentage of married male nonregular workers. Their figure is much lower than that of regular employees of the same sex.

Given this, an improvement in the job security of young people is vital in countering the low birthrate.

It is important to ensure nonregular employees are paid wages that are commensurate with their labors, while also providing them with greater opportunities to improve their status as corporate employees. This requires improving the treatment of nonregular workers and giving them more opportunities to acquire job skills while at the same time increasing efforts to aid the corporate sector in upgrading their status to that of regular employees.

There is a need to make progress in fighting the spread of poverty in our society and rectifying economic and other disparities among people, a task requiring effort to promote working conditions conducive to making young people better motivated to work.

Another essential task is to facilitate an environment in which women and elderly persons can bring their abilities into full play. This is important as there are growing concerns about an anticipated labor shortage due to the population decrease.

We believe doing so will do much to achieve success in transforming our country into “a society in which women can shine,” one of the goals pursued by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Progress in the graying of baby boomers will be accompanied by a rapid increase in medical and nursing-care payments in the near future. Efforts must be made to curtail benefits covering a portion of the expenditures incurred while also improving the quality of such services. All this will require converting the medical and nursing-care systems into lean and efficient schemes.

The first task in this respect is to draw a clear line between medical services for acute cases and those for recuperating patients at hospitals and other medical institutions.

As circumstances stand today, there is an excess in the number of hospital beds registered for patients who need acute-phase treatments. Medical institutions in this category have advanced equipment and highly skilled staff.

In some cases, however, these registered beds are occupied by elderly people with chronic health needs but whose conditions have already stabilized.

Given the status quo, it is necessary to reduce the number of beds used for the costlier treatment received by these patients to an appropriate level. This calls for improving the quality of medical services in a manner that can meet the needs of a super-aging society, including advice for inpatients regarding when the time is right for their discharge from the hospital as well as an at-home diagnosis and treatment.

‘Pains’ must be tolerated

Another case in point is the government-run nursing care insurance system. Starting next fiscal year, some services for elderly persons requiring a low degree of nursing care will be transferred to the control of city, town and village governments.

This will be complemented by a plan to tighten the requirements that must be met by elderly people who want to be housed in homes for persons requiring around-the-clock nursing care.

It is also inevitable to allot a greater portion of benefits to aged persons who require a high level of nursing services.

There is a pressing need to renovate the system to make it possible for elderly persons to receive the nursing care they truly need, mainly at home, instead of excessively relying on hospitals and other facilities.

An important task in pension system reforms is to expand the scope of subscribers to the corporate employees’ pension plan. There are concerns about a possible surge in the number of people who would only be entitled to low value pension payments in the future. This is because a number of nonregular workers are excluded from the list of subscribers to the current corporate employees’ pension program.

With this in mind, it is advisable to study the idea of imposing greater taxes on pension benefits and curtailing the amount of benefits received by high-income pensioners.

In sustaining the social security systems in our rapidly graying society, it is unavoidable to carry out reforms that entail pains, such as a curb in pension benefits and an increase in the financial burden on affluent elderly persons. All this requires strong political leadership.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 7, 2015)


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