Office child care to be subsidized

The government announced last week its plan to launch a new system to support in-house child care centers operated by private companies starting April 2015 on condition that children of those who are not employees are also eligible to enter the centers.

The child care centers will be operated by private companies, but since they will be jointly subsidized together with the central and local governments, children other than those of the company’s employees will also be entitled to enroll.

Even though this government initiative comes decades later than it should have, it appears to be a step forward in improving conditions for working parents, which is an urgent priority.

To accomplish those goals, the plan calls for company child care centers to accept children whose parents do not work for the company, thus adding a benefit for the local community.

That more inclusive approach is greatly needed. In October 2013, about 44,000 children were waiting to enter authorized child care centers. Were a company, for example, to announce a layoff of 44,000 workers, the public reaction would be outrage. However, the current lack of child care amounts to almost the same degree of unemployment. Women, especially, are denied the possibility of finding work because there’s no place to take care of their children during the day.

While in-house child care centers across Japan number 1,610, according to a survey in 2012, those centers are currently categorized as unauthorized, meaning they cannot receive subsidies from the central or local government. The plan will relieve this bureaucratic logjam.

The proposed subsidies will cover around 44 percent of the operational costs, with private firms shouldering 32 percent of the costs and users contributing the same share as they do now, roughly 24 percent of costs. The new system of shared costs should encourage private companies to open more centers.

Some of the government budget, it was reported, will come from consumption tax revenue.

While the plan shifts a large part of the burden of setting up and running child care centers away from government responsibility to private enterprises, the result, at least in the short run, will be better opportunities for working parents, especially women. The impact on the economy will be a positive and lasting one since the plan will enable more women with children to work and help support their families.

The proposal sounds like a balanced solution to a long-running problem that has for too long unfairly held back a large potential workforce of mothers and placed a burden on families with children. It is too bad this solution did not arrive much earlier.