'Last Chance to Tackle Declining Births' Says PM Kishida, Unveiling New Children-First Policy
"Declining births are a battle with time, and we plan to address this problem head on," said the Japanese prime minister.
"If we continue like this, our economy will shrink, and it will become difficult to sustain the welfare and social support system. The coming six or seven years mark our last chance to reverse the declining births," said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in a press conference on March 17.
The Japanese leader, who raised the subject in his January policy speech before the Diet, unveiled the government's framework for a "children-first society." More concrete policies are to be announced within the month of March, said Kishida.
Most policies are set to address people in their 20s and 30s, the generation living through "life's busiest rush hour."
"Declining births are a battle with time, and we plan to address this problem head-on," said the Japanese prime minister.
Kishida explained that the first step along the road to encouraging families to have children is to increase wages. This topic has come up in reference to the rising cost of living, but it is especially relevant for young families.
"The first reason why married couples say they don't have children is because child rearing and education are expensive," said Mr Kishida. "Therefore, we need to increase wages at a rate which is higher than inflation."
Other possible policies could include increasing housing support for families and decreasing the burden on families who pay for schools.
Mr Kishida also highlighted the importance of changing mindsets.
In particular, the prime minister expressed the aim of raising the corporate policy on paternity leave to 50% by 2025, and 85% by 2030. The recorded percentage of men in Japan who took paternity leave in 2021 was only 13.97% according to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
"Some point to Japan saying it has a cold attitude towards those who have children," commented Mr Kishida, "We need to change that perception and make it a children-first society."
The framework includes recommendations for companies to encourage fathers to take paternity leave. It also includes suggestions for flexible working arrangements that allow employees to make time for their families.
Additional steps to change attitudes include creating priority lanes for families at museums and other public places.
A key part of the new framework would be increased financial support to families.
Mr Kishida announced the government's intention to pay leave benefits for parents in cases of shortened working hours. The idea is to raise the level of benefits for both mothers and fathers so that they are equivalent to the wages paid before childbirth.
New benefit policies are also set to include measures for freelance or part-time workers who might see their incomes decrease when a new child is born.
Eventually these measures are expected to double the budget allocated to children and policies to tackle declining births. Mr Kishida, however, refrained from stating the timing of the increase and where the funds will come from.
"We need to evaluate what measures are necessary while looking at society as a whole," said the prime minister.
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Author: Arielle Busetto
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