Greater public burden, benefit cuts must be discussed first / Unrealistic pledges won’t dispel people’s fears

The Yomiuri ShimbunGiven the rapidly aging population and declining birthrate, there are fears about the sustainability of this country’s social security system. Confronting these harsh realities and presenting a concrete image of a social security system that can eliminate the public’s anxiety about the future is the responsibility of politics.

Political parties’ campaign promises for the House of Representatives election list various measures to improve the social security system, including stronger support for child-rearing generations. Most of the promises, however, are vague as to the sources of funding and how they can be realized. Measures that boldly call for increases in the public’s burden and cuts in benefit payments are also scant. These pledges have taken on an aspect of inter-party competition to offer services, and are unevenly weighted toward benefits.

Maintain reforms

The public will see through attempts to win popularity with hollow words. Parties should do more to debate policies that actually convince voters.

The present social security system lacks a source of financing to keep up with benefit payments and relies on deficit-covering national bonds, which leaves future generations to pay the bill. The current system will come to a dead end sooner or later.

The current structure should be modified so that a balance between benefits and burden for current generations can be attained. To achieve this, the consumption tax should be raised. This is the main goal of the “integrated social security and tax system reforms” that are based on an accord reached by the then Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

To overcome the low birthrate, benefits to the currently working generations should be increased in the form of child-rearing support and other measures. The shift to “social security for all generations,” as the LDP advocates, also conveys a similar idea. That course of action is correct.

The two-time postponement of the planned consumption tax rate hike has shaken the framework for the integrated reforms. The reliance on debt and breaking promises of reform must not be continued. How should the framework be rebuilt? Parties’ stances on this issue will be put to the test.

All parties are commonly advocating for free early childhood education and nursery school — an idea not included in the integrated reforms.

Resolve children’s waits

The LDP advocates for free preschool education and nursery services for all children aged 3 to 5 and infants aged up to 2 from low-income families. To this end, the party calls for changing the allocation of additional revenue from the planned consumption tax rate hike by diverting funds originally intended to be set aside for the reduction of deficit-covering national bonds. Komeito said that education and nursery services for all children up to the age of 5 should be free.

The opposition parties that promote such ideas as freezing the planned consumption tax rate hike also agree on making education free of charge.

All of these ideas leave future generations to pay the costs later.

Fees for nursery schools and kindergartens have already been reduced or exempted in line with the income levels of parents. The higher the household income, the greater the benefit will be if kindergartens and nursery schools are made free for all children. When the harsh financial situation is taken into account, these measures will inevitably be considered as reducing burdens, which is lacking in balance.

The highest priority should be placed on eliminating the problem of children waiting to be accepted by nursery schools. Given that the number of such children, including “hidden waiting children” not included in statistics, has topped 90,000, the significance of making kindergartens and nursery schools free dims. If funds are diverted to such a cost-free measure and that delays the implementation of steps to tackle the shortage of nursery schools, it will threaten the prospects of promoting the active engagement of women in society.

The ruling parties have proposed bringing forward the schedule for the “Plan for Raising Children with Peace of Mind,” now seeking to boost the capacity of childcare facilities by 320,000 by fiscal 2020. It should also be remembered that the working conditions should be improved to secure enough childcare workers and the quality of childcare services must be enhanced.

Even if the consumption tax rate is raised to 10 percent, additional financial sources will be needed to fund new measures. It is essential to make efforts to win public understanding for the increased burden.

Kibo no To (Party of Hope) has pledged to make reducing the number of children on nursery school waiting lists to zero a legal obligation. But it has failed to draw a concrete image.

Besides child-rearing assistance, the feasibility of other measures touted by the party is also questionable in terms of funding.

Komeito has called for moving up the schedule for providing financial support to low-income pensioners, a measure slated to be introduced when the consumption tax rate is increased to 10 percent.

Kibo has put forth a plan to establish a cap on out-of-pocket expenses for welfare services. It has also proposed providing cash to low-income earners and others in need. But such measures would require more than ¥10 trillion in funding. In a bid to slash expenditures from state coffers, meanwhile, the party has simply sought “reform involving self-sacrifice,” which calls for measures such as reducing the number of lawmakers.

Make services effective

In social security reform, the most important task is curbing the growth of medical and nursing care costs. These costs could soar in 2025 when baby boomers turn 75 or older. Both medical service and nursing care fees will be revised in fiscal 2018. This is the last chance to turn the current system into a sustainable one.

Nevertheless, the parties have not addressed the issue much, leaving something to be desired.

The LDP has called for the use of medical data to prevent disease and prevent ailments from becoming serious. Kibo has also brought up a measure to prevent disease by analyzing genetic data. But these proposals are insufficient as measures to curb social security benefits.

A system that can provide services seamlessly should be developed by reinforcing home medical care and nursing services to prevent people from excessively relying on hospitals and facilities. Current services for those who need light or moderate degrees of nursing care should be reviewed to focus more on those in need of extreme support. The subject and scope of services should be overhauled in accordance with changes in people’s needs.

These tasks must be undertaken as soon as possible.

Reforms that seek to have affluent elderly people cover a fair share of the burden also must be carried out. As for the pension system, serious discussions are urged with an eye on an era of 100-year lifespans.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 12, 2017)Speech


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