More than 20 years have passed since calls first began for the nation to take adequate measures to cope with the declining birthrate. But little progress has been made in this respect.
Failure to provide sufficient support for people raising children will have a devastating effect on the future of the nation. But judging by the campaign promises made in the runup to Sunday’s Upper House election, political parties don’t seem to be giving this grim situation much thought.
Political parties must seriously take into account the significance of a forecast that shows people 65 years old or older will account for 40 percent of Japan’s population by 2060 and work out convincing concrete proposals to raise the nation’s birthrate.
To help eliminate waiting lists for day care centers, the Liberal Democratic Party says that it will open day care facilities that can accommodate 200,000 children within two years and 400,000 children by the end of 2017. But this plan is linked to a consumption tax rate increase from the current 5 percent to 8 percent scheduled to take place in April 2014, the revenue from which the party aims to use to help fund the new facilities. But this plan will come to nothing if the government decides to postpone the tax hike on account of bad economic conditions.
There are differences in political parties’ approach to eliminating waiting lists. Some parties attach importance to maintaining current standards for day-care facilities while other parties call for entry of private companies into day care services, although this carries the risk of lowering of service standards.
The bottom line should be that children receive day care services in a safe environment under the watch of nursery school teachers who possess a strong sense of responsibility.
Along with increasing the number of day care centers for children and improving the quality of their services, another important step would be to make it easier for young people to feel financially secure enough to get married and raise a family, and to prevent the burden of child rearing from falling primarily on the shoulders of mothers. Single mothers should also get more help.
The government, political parties and businesses must act to reduce the percentage of irregular workers, whose pay and job security is so low that they cannot seriously consider the idea of marriage and raising a family. They should make efforts to reduce overtime, which makes it more difficult for young workers to find the time to raise a family. Employees taking childcare leave should be entitled to subsidies from the government and their employers.
Young voters should carefully consider parties’ promises related to childcare and support for younger workers and decide which approach would benefit them the most before casting their ballots.