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The government and the ruling bloc have decided to raise the payment for nursing-care services by 3 percent from April 2009. Since the inauguration of the nursing-care insurance system in fiscal 2000, the payment has been reviewed twice — once every three years — and reduced every time. The increase is welcome, but there is a problem: It may not directly translate into larger salaries for nursing-care workers. Instead, the money may be used to improve facilities and equipment instead.

At present, there are about 1.2 million such workers. The government and the ruling bloc hope that the payment increase will boost workers’ monthly salaries by about ¥20,000 and increase the number of people working in this field by 100,000.

The health and welfare ministry estimates that an additional 300,000 to 500,000 nursing-care workers will be needed in around five years’ time as most baby boomers exceed the age of 65. If the number of elderly people with senile dementia shoots up, even more nursing-care workers will be required.

Although high ideals lead many people to become nursing-care workers, harsh working conditions force many of them to quit. According to Care Work Foundation, 21.6 percent of nursing-care workers surveyed in 2007 did just that. It is clear that nursing-care workers are frustrated by salaries that are not commensurate with their heavy work load.

The average monthly salary for a nursing-care worker is about ¥200,000. Even full-time nursing-care workers earn about ¥100,000 a month less than the average for workers in all industries.

Without nursing-care workers, the nursing-care insurance system cannot survive. The government must take steps to ensure that the additional funding is used to bolster the salaries of nursing-care workers.

The 3-percent raise in the payments also means a yearly increase of ¥1,440 in insurance premium payments paid by the elderly. Therefore, the government should secure funding to help low-income people shoulder this additional burden.

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