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2016年1月28日 (木)

代表質問 不平等克服へ政策競え

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 27
EDITORIAL: Parties should focus on correcting social disparities, not election
(社説)代表質問 不平等克服へ政策競え

How can we overcome social disparities that have become too commonplace today?

This was one of the urgent questions posed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Diet on Jan. 26, the first day of this year’s questioning session by lawmakers representing their parties.

The Diet has a host of other crucial issues to address, such as the economy, diplomacy and national security, as well as the money scandal embroiling Akira Amari, the minister in charge of economic revitalization.

But the growing disparities around the nation between regular and part-time employees, men and women, the big cities and the provinces and so on, are in special need of prompt attention.

Democratic Party of Japan leader Katsuya Okada said, “We would like to propose specific measures for correcting the disparities and ensuring a fair distribution of benefits.”

One of the initiatives he proposed was to increase the per-child amount of child-care benefits, and to raise the upper age limit for eligible children. To secure funding, Okada suggested increasing tax on financial incomes and reinforcing the progressivity of income and inheritance taxes.

Prime Minister Abe promised in his policy speech to take further steps to realize his “equal pay for equal work” concept. Okada asked if Abe’s objective matches the DPJ’s demand for “equal treatment” of regular and part-time employees.

Japan Innovation Party leader Yorihisa Matsuno referred to the number of people who are not paying into the national pension program and demanded swift action.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the relative poverty rate in Japan was 16.1 percent in 2012, which represented a gradual year-on-year growth. Limited to younger households consisting of members under 30 years old, the rate was 27.8 percent, and a much higher 54.6 percent for single-parent households.

Acknowledging this reality, Abe replied, “We will continue to review and improve matters related to employment and social security to prevent the disparities from becoming permanent.”

But the prime minister’s response to Okada’s proposals was somewhat too abstract to be satisfactory.

In his policy speech on Jan. 22, Abe attacked opposition parties and said, “An attitude of spending all one’s time simply criticizing, without putting forward any counterproposals, and expecting that everything will ‘all work out somehow’ is truly irresponsible towards the public.”
Abe then addressed the opposition camp, saying, “Instead, shall we not pit concrete policies against each other and hold constructive discussions?”

When he said that, he must have been thinking of the attitude of the DPJ and other parties toward the national security legislation and constitutional amendment. But surely, it is anything but “irresponsible” to resist any policy that goes against the Constitution. And it is only natural to be alarmed by the prime minister’s resolve to change the Constitution at all costs.

In fact, it is the prime minister himself who needs to live up to his responsibility of responding “concretely and constructively” to questions and proposals put forth by the opposition camp.

With the Upper House election coming up this summer, the current Diet session is expected to be a “short-term battle.” But there are numerous issues that need to be discussed, and the money scandal must be probed to everyone’s satisfaction.

The session must not be allowed to become an ugly sparring contest, fought only with the upcoming election in mind.


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